The story is that the EG Sunset Shimmer is pushed into Equestria by Pony Sunset Shimmer who replaces her. On Hiatus due to popular demand.
Sunset Shimmer had a pretty good outlook on life. She had great parents, good friends, and was going to a nice school. For her, life couldn't have been any better, until one night she saw the impossible happen, when "She" collapsed out of mirror like plaque on the Canterlot High Statue. Next thing she knew she was a unicorn, in a castle, with other "ponies" that looked way too familiar to be just a coincidence.
I've started updating again. Never thought I'd actually start getting around to it but here we are. Obviously, still not the best written thing around, but people like it for some reason. So, I guess I must be doing something right.
Special thanks to molly wormdirt for editing and to Tennis Match Fan for the cover art.
January 30th, 2016 featured. I, what, I don't, I wasn't expecting. Okay, cool. Thanks readers!
The time was 6:59 in the morning, and Sunset Shimmer was about to receive an enormous wake up call.
As the last minute passed, the alarm clock echoed in her room, blaring in the tired teenager’s ears.
"Ugh..." she groaned as her hand reached out and slammed the sleep button. Her hand retreated back to the bed and moved a mess of yellow and red hair to reveal a teal eye straining to make out the time on the clock. Eventually the girl gave up and let her hair fall back over her eyes. "Ten more minutes."
She couldn't recall exactly how many times she'd pressed it, or if she had at all, but it didn't matter much to her as at the moment all she could think about was getting back to sleep.
Sunset Shimmer had what she figured was a pretty nice life. She lived in a good neighborhood, was going to be starting her first year at the fairly prominent Canterlot High, and had a few good friends. Her father had a good job that brought in a great amount of money for her family, yet he always had time for her. Her mother was a wonderful homemaker, and whenever Sunset had a problem she could always confide in her.
Suddenly an electric guitar riff crashed upon the sleeping girl, causing her to jump out of bed with a short yelp. Looking toward the direction of the sound she found her cell phone. She looked at the screen to see the image of a boy her age, with a kind smile and spiky blue hair. She hit one of the buttons, and put it to her ear only to hear another tired voice on the other end.
"Hey, Sunny. Before you get mad, you told me to give you a wake up call. First day of school remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Thanks Flash." Sunset Shimmer replied, smiling as her heartbeat slowed down again.
Thirty minutes later, Sunset made her way downstairs wearing a pair of knee high boots, an orange skirt with a pale yellow and pink set of stripes near the bottom, a white t-shirt, and her trademark leather jacket.
She rushed into the kitchen, grabbing a small breakfast which she hastily devoured in her rush to get to school early, or at least on time. She gave her dad a quick peck on the cheek and her mom a quick hug as she left.
"See you after school!" She called out as she headed through the door.
"Have a good day, Sunset!" her parents replied, waving from the door, never realizing this would be the last day they'd see their real daughter.
After school, Sunset chatted with some new friends by the large statue in front of the school. An hour passed, and none of them realized a portal was open in one of its sides.
“Hey, so Sunset,” a girl with short, mint-colored hair began. “Are you doing anything tonight? Pinkie Pie’s throwing this big first day of school shin-dig.”
“Oh, that sounds really fun!” Sunset replied. Of course she had met Pinkie Pie already. The energetic girl made it a point to introduce herself to everyone. “But I already have a date with Flash Sentry tonight.”
The girl smiled back. “You’re really gonna miss out. I hear nobody throws a party like Pinkie Pie.”
With that, the girls said goodbye, and soon Sunset was alone, waiting for Flash. What was taking him so long?
Her heart rate increasing once again, she remembered that she had left her biology homework in her locker. Not wanting to miss her boyfriend, she ran into the school again, certain it’d take her no time at all.
With her homework in hand, she returned to the front of the building. She began to text Flash, when something caught her eye. Someone was lying unconscious, as far as she could tell, in front of the statue.
Dropping the homework and rushing over, she noticed that the person was wearing the same outfit she was. This didn't bother her too much considering her outfit wasn't very hard to come by. She reached the girl who was currently lying face down and then she saw something that did bother her quite a bit. This girl had the same hair as her. It was one thing to have the same outfit, but the same hair? Still Sunset didn't worry about that, instead worrying about how the girl might be injured.
"Hey are you- AH!" Sunset gasped in surprise as she flipped the girl onto her back, discovering that this girl in fact looked exactly like her, everything from the outfit, to her hair, her skin tone, and even her eye color. The girl looked up at her, confusion evident on her face. Sunset's cell phone clattered as it hit the ground, and her mouth fell open.
Both girls, both Sunsets were speechless. Then the one lying on the ground began looking around, taking in her surroundings.
A sudden thought caused Sunset to quickly grab for her cell phone. With the device in hand, she readied it to call Flash Sentry, when a sudden, sharp pain to the back of her head caused a meeting between her face and the concrete. Dazed and confused, her eyes opened in terror. Who was attacking her? She couldn't even attempt to get up as the back of her head shot with more pain from another blow. A third and final blow brought her brain activity to a screeching halt. Her mind a jumbled mess, the last thing she saw before blacking out was a strange wave of light.
"Well, that was interesting. Another me." Sunset said to herself. As she explored the new body she possessed, thoughts of the other her quickly vanished. Suddenly, the device her other had attempted to use started to blare out musical noises.
"Hmm." She clumsily picked up the cellphone with her new hand and accidentally accepted the call, falling back onto the ground when a voice emanated from it.
"Sunset, are you okay!? You said you'd be here forty minutes ago!"
The voice didn't just sound familiar to Sunset; she knew exactly who it was. She quickly recovered and responded. "Sorry, Mom. Something hit my head and I don't feel so good. Do you think you could come get me?"
"Oh my, of course! I'll be there in a minute. Hold on!" The worry in the mother’s voice almost made her feel bad for what she had just done to her real daughter.
Playing an injured routine, she replied, "Thanks, Mom. I'm by...uh - the horse statue." Sunset nearly groaned out loud; she had no idea how many horse statues were here.
"You haven't even left the school yet? Oh dear, hold on!" her mother repeated, the concern augmenting. Sunset heard a beep, then, and the voice was gone.
“Well, maybe this'll be a bit easier than I thought,” the new Sunset Shimmer said, pulling herself to her feet. “Just you wait, Celestia. Just you wait.”
"AH!" Sunset awoke with a start, her breathing tense and quick. She was lying on a bed, covered with a thin sheet and a layer of sweat.
"Ow!" she exclaimed again. Pain built up in the back of her head and she started to rub it. That's when she noticed something.
"Where's my hand?" Quickly she pulled her arm up to her face and looked it over. She had trouble getting her eyes to focus, but she still realized what she was looking at.
"AHHH!!!" She screamed in terror once more as she noticed that her hand was missing, and that her arm resembled a foam noodle. Only it wasn't foam; it was bone and flesh and, most notably, fur.
She looked at her other arm and noticed in horror that it had suffered the same fate as her first. At the end of her wrist was what seemed to be...a hoof. Her breathing quickened even more and she could hear rapid beeping that seemed to match her heartbeat. She felt yet another problem: her feet, or rather the lack of them. She noticed that even under the cover of the sheet her legs looked remarkably similar to her new arms.
"Then it is as I feared."
Sunset looked over toward the source of the voice. Her vision was still slightly blurred, but she thought she saw the flowing green and purple hair of Principal Celestia. At the sight of her, the muscles in Sunset’s shoulders relaxed and a smile even began forming between her cheeks. Maybe it was just her faulty vision that made her believe her hands and feet were gone. She lifted her arms in front of her face again. Slowly, what lay before her came into focus. But she still had hooves. She looked back to Principal Celestia.
Her eyes grew wide and her heart started racing again. It wasn’t Principal Celestia. It was a horse. A white horse with large wings folded at its sides, and a long horn on its forehead. It looked at her with, from what she could tell, worry. Then, it spoke again. "You're not the Sunset Shimmer I know, are you?"
"Who - what are you?! Why do you look like my principal?! For that matter what am I?! Where am I?!" Sunset started hammering out all the questions on her mind, the beeping (which she now knew was coming from a heart monitor nearby) increasing with each question.. "Wait, you mean you know that girl who looked like me?! Hold on, hold on, you said her name was Sunset Shimmer, but- but that's my name! What is going on here!?!"
The horse looked down, remorsefully. "There is no easy way for me to explain this. This is definitely going to be a painful thing for you to hear, but I'll start from the beginning. To answer your more basic questions, you are in Equestria, specifically you are in the hospital wing of my castle in Canterlot, the capital of the land. I am Celestia, the ruling princess. I am an Alicorn, which are in technicality a mixture of the strengths of each of the three races of ponies: Earth, Pegasi, and Unicorns. You yourself are now in the body of a Unicorn.
"This is where things become a little more complicated. You see, here we have an artifact - a magic mirror that acts as a portal to your dimension. When one steps through it, the portal transforms them. Unfortunately, our two dimensions are parallel, which means that-"
"The girl, she's my parallel!" Sunset burst out in sudden realization.
"Precisely. So to answer why I look like your “principal”, she must be my parallel. Now for the hard part. Regarding the other Sunset Shimmer, I know her because she was one of my students." The horse - Celestia seemed to flinch at that, and Sunset found herself suddenly wondering why. "Obviously there are a lot of parallels within our dimensions including names, so I believe that - especially given her timing - she's decided to switch lives with you. To what end she hopes to take this I am unsure, but what I do know is that when she switched, the portal was near closing. By now, it has closed, and will remain closed for another thirty moons."
"Thirty moons," Sunset questioned. "Well, how long would that be?"
Celestia sighed. "Moons are a fickle measurement of time. Sometimes it means years-"
Celestia jumped as Sunset cried out, "Years! I’m going to be trapped here for thirty YEARS!” She tried to chew her nails, but only reminded herself that she didn’t even have nails. She shouted again, “I’ll be older than my mother by the time I get back!” In her anxiety, she settled for chewing the edge of one of her hooves.
The white princess sighed once more. "The portal will actually be opening in thirty months. As I said moons are a fickle time measurement, they can mean years, months, weeks, even days. According to my measurements, this cycle will last for thirty months."
Thirty months definitely wasn't thirty years, but it was still a long time. She'd be a Junior in high school by then - and even in the second semester. Sunset also sighed, her new, long ears flattening instinctively as her emotions went from shock and fear to despair. "It's still two and a half years. I may as well be stuck here for life."
Celestia's own ears flattened as she looked at her with her own sadness. She wasn't used to delivering news of this kind. "That was the last thing I was planning to tell you. While I am unsure of the exact circumstances of your arrival, it seems that my Sunset Shimmer was ‘lucky’ enough to have found you and sent you here without any complications. If there were any, I would've had to deal with a bit more than just you coming through the portal - that much is obvious. In any case, this...this is the worst news I have for you. You won't be able to return to your world." Sunset opened her mouth cry out again, but Celestia continued quickly. "Allow me to explain. By the time the portal opens, my Sunset Shimmer will have altered your life too greatly. Even more so, you two fighting over your life could doom both our dimensions. As much as it pains me to say it, you are stuck here. The only thing I can do is help you to adjust to this life and help you pick up where your other left off."
Sunset couldn't speak, couldn't even think of what to do. Her life had been shattered, taken over by someone who wasn't even actually human. Taken over by a horse. The only thing she could do at the moment was stare hopelessly down at her new body, one she was now going to have to live with for the rest of her life. Tears started to flow down her cheeks as she silently sobbed.
Celestia approached and wrapped one of her wings around the new Sunset Shimmer, in an attempt to offer any consolation she could. She'd already explained the whole scenario to Sunset's parents who were at this very moment trying to pull themselves together, understanding the similarities between their situation and that of this “new” Sunset Shimmer.
Celestia had to tell them; she couldn't leave them in the dark. They would have noticed anyway, as they knew how Sunset Shimmer was before she went through the portal. They would recognize a difference. So Celestia continued attempting to comfort the trembling Unicorn, while praying that Sunset and her "new parents'" first meeting would go well.
Sunset couldn't believe it. Her life had been completely average only moments ago, but it was all different now. So many times she sat there wishing that a camera crew would come out and reveal the whole thing to be some elaborate prank, but at the same time she knew that wouldn’t happen. This was reality. She stopped sobbing a little while ago; she was down to just a soft sniffle every now and then. That was when Celestia said she'd go get her "new" parents. She let out half of a grim chuckle.
Sunset tried to smile too. They weren't new parents, just pony versions of her old ones. She didn’t have to be nervous, but all of a sudden she realized that she did. If that other girl was her parallel then what would her "parents" be like? They wouldn’t be like that other girl would they?
Sunset's sniffles became a little more frequent, and a little louder, tears developing in her eyes again. She looked down, thinking about how these pony parents must be feeling. Celestia had gone, so Sunset let herself speak out loud. “They must feel as bad as I do. No, it must be worse! Not only has their daughter disappeared, but she's ripped me out of my life! They...they must feel like this is their fault - that they did something to send their daughter away from them!" Sunset burst into fresh sobs, not only for herself, but for them, and her real parents who likely had no idea about the situation.
When Sunset felt a wing wrap around her again her she realized that her crying had been so loud that she didn't even hear the door. She looked up to see that Celestia had returned and was standing next to her, a wing outstretched to comfort her. Then she glanced toward the edge of the bed and saw the pony versions of her parents. She could identify each one easily.
Evening Gleam, a bright yellow unicorn with orange hair, was looking straight at her. His face held the loving concern that she'd seen on her own father whenever he caught her crying. Though he didn't cry, Sunset could tell by the look in his eyes that he'd been hit hard by the recent events. Sunset Silk, a darker yellow unicorn with bright yellow hair, made it clear how she was affected. She refused to look directly at Sunset, but she could still see that her eyes were also red with tears, and the tears’ paths could be seen shining on her cheeks. Silk's easily revealed her own amount of worry. Sunset Shimmer could hardly believe it; she wasn't really their daughter, but they were worried about her as though she were.
"I-I'm sorry about my daughters actions... I- I just wish I could've..." Gleam spoke out then stuttered off. If anything were to confirm his feelings about this, that attempt at a sentence was all Sunset needed. "I wish I knew how my daughter went from the filly I knew to- to a pony, whose only concern was power." He started to shake his head, his emotions tearing through his barrier. He turned around to privately pull himself back together.
"It-it shouldn't surprise me, but still, you and my daughter. You both look..." Silk spoke next, her tears choking her words. "How could she do this? Why would she do this?" her voice cracked as she asked, desperation clear in her quiet disbelief. She spoke as though to herself, but then finally looked at Sunset, burst into sobs, and rushed forward wrapping her hooves around her. "I'm so sorry! If there's anything I can do..." Gleam came up and joined his wife in hugging their "daughter". The new family sank to the floor, drowning each other in their tears.
Sunset returned the hugs as best she could with her new limbs. Celestia stood silent for the moment allowing the girl who had lost her life and the couple who had lost their daughter to comfort each other as much as they could. The princess feared secretly that they would not be able to provide each other with enough consolation, though. Sewing these broken families together seemed like a double-edged sword. Surely Sunset’s new parents would remind her of the life she lost and she would remind them of the daughter they lost. Celestia could only hope that they would fill each other’s holes.
She let her mind slip toward her own sadness. The princess had lost a pony whom she had completely trusted, a star student. However, seeing the bravery of and effort being given by each of the three ponies on her carpet offered a hint of faith in her own recovery.
"There haven't been many moments in my life where I have felt truly powerless. I wish there was something I could do to reverse the damage that has been done. I'm so sorry to all of you! Something happened to the other Sunset Shimmer during my time as her teacher - something that drove her to this. I just wish I knew what that was." Celestia looked away, her restraint loosening. "I know that by all means this won't take the pain away, but if you wish - Sunset Shimmer - I can take you under my wing as I did with their daughter. As I said, I'm unsure what happened to cause this so I won't be surprised if you refuse, but the offer still stands. If you wish to learn magic from me-"
"I-I will,” Sunset interrupted, with a hiccup. Gleam and Silk released her, and she clumsily rubbed the tears from her eyes. “But I need some time first to a-adjust to…” She paused, and Celestia looked at her. Sunset sighed and continued. “...my new life first." If she was going to be filling a gap in the lives of the other Sunset’s parents, she figured she should try to make herself seem like the daughter they knew. It would help keep her mind off of her own problems. She just needed time; time to adapt to the body - time to get her emotions under control
This, the longest day she'd known yet, was finally over - at least that was what the clock said, as far as she could tell in the moonlight. Sunset had stayed up past midnight going over the day again and again in her head. Her new parents had headed home, but only after Princess Celestia herself was forced to send them home. It was the third hardest thing that she'd had to do that day, but even her authority is more or less superseded in a hospital, and rules were rules. Her parents had been so concerned that they'd attempted to ignore the doctor and the nurses and stay to offer Sunset any assistance they could. Celestia left after they did, explaining things to the frustrated doctor. The look on her face as she said goodbye was one that had almost brought a small bright spot to Sunset's day, it was so full of concern and care. But the last thing she had said before leaving was only more bad news. She supposed that she should have expected it, but it still felt like a slap to the face.
"Physical therapy," Sunset sighed to herself. "I expected to have physical therapy if I did something stupid like get hit by a car, but I never expected that I'd have to go through it for..." She stiffened before she could finish the sentence. She concentrated on maintaining the inner dam she had begun to construct, a weak attempt at keeping back the floodwaters caused by her fragile emotional state. It didn't help that one wrong word, one stray thought was all it took to foil her best efforts.
She rolled onto her side, stretching out all four of her legs for a moment, attempting to get more comfortable. She'd never get to sleep if she kept thinking like this, and she needed to get her rest for tomorrow. Tomorrow would be her first day of physical therapy, and it wouldn’t be over until she was at least able to handle the basics. "I never thought I'd have to relearn how to walk, run, jump, even eat." She chuckled grimly to herself, "I can't even eat properly." It was something that everyone could do from birth, and she would have to relearn how to do it, at least appropriately anyway. Her meals today were in the form of nutrient-rich liquids with the consistency of a milkshake. She was too busy working the muscles in her new throat and feeling the liquid move through her to be embarrassed that a nurse had to hold the cup for her as she drank through a straw.
Sunset rolled over again and thought some more about the subject. "What do they eat? They're horses - or, uh, ponies. Are they vegan? Wait, horses and ponies aren't vegan. Are the foods even the same though? Do they have sandwiches? What about pasta? Oh no, what if they don't have pizza!" She groaned. "Of all the times to worry about this, I pick now. I should be trying to get to sleep!"
She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down. She didn’t need any help figuring out how to breathe. That and talking came involuntarily to her. When she finally settled and got comfortable again, she let herself start to drift. The darkness subdued her and her head sank into the soft pillow beneath it.
But just as she was about to doze off, the worst happened. She gasped in what she could only have described as the most absolute of horrors.
"Oh no..." A certain pressure built up in a place she was now definitely sure was her new bladder. She struggled fruitlessly for a moment to at least attempt to get up on her own. After a moment of utter failure, during which she'd barely managed to scoot an inch on the mattress, the pressure was unbearable, and she renounced her pride. "NURSE!" she cried as loudly as she could, fighting with all her strength to keep from crying.
A nurse came rushing in not a moment later. "What's wrong?" she asked, seeing the mortified look on the young mare's face.
"I-I need to-to pee." Sunset stuttered as she burst into new tears, no longer able to fight on two fronts and settling for one.
The nurse struggled to keep her own tears down. She'd heard everything about Sunset, and though she could sympathize with her patient’s condition, it was one she couldn't bear imagining herself going through. "Don't worry, I'll get you there in a jiffy,” she said, trying to console her patient to the best of her ability. “And I'll make sure that this stays between the two of us, okay?"
As her horn began to glow, the nurse quickly levitated Sunset out of the bed and into the bathroom. Sunset fought desperately against her bladder, but the position in which she was being levitated only added to the problem. A combination of weightlessness and the inability of her legs to cross had Sunset feel something that horrified her greatly: the feeling of a warm liquid running down her leg. The nurse, thanking her lucky stars that she'd caught on just in time, instead put Sunset in the shower stall, started running the water, turned around, and bit her lip as Sunset's crying turned into sobbing.
Sunset lay on her stomach, letting out all of her tears and frustrations. The only comfort she took in the moment was the warm water running over her body. She was still, however, focused on all the many things she'd have to relearn. She weeped as she added the current priority of emptying her bladder to the list.
She silently and bitterly hoped that her other was having just as much trouble as she was, and she cursed her for what she did, wishing she could get vengeance on her but knowing that it was now and forever impossible.
Sunset Shimmer didn't know whether to be ecstatic or furious. She'd just spent an hour attempting to stand up on all fours without assistance and had only just succeeded. She kept her legs stiff, knowing that if just one of them relaxed she'd topple over into a heap on the floor. She wasn't ready to do that for the sixteenth time - the last time she accidentally bit her tongue. The only thing she could be glad about was that no one was laughing; in fact, the therapist, the doctor, and the nurses were actually quite reserved at the moment, though she could swear that at least one of them held back a giggle when her legs gave out again.
From the floor, the only thing keeping her from screaming in frustration was the fact that she could almost see her parallel being just as infuriated as she was. Sunset kept imagining her parallel struggling to maintain her balance on two legs, fumbling to hold silverware, smelling ripe because she didn't know how to change her clothes. "Good luck with your bra," she muttered under her breath, chuckling slightly.
Then Sunset had a realization: her parallel wouldn't have the aid of medical professionals, a benevolent princess, and two parents who knew just what the problem was. Her parallel had to attempt to keep it all a complete secret and hope to master her body quickly so no one would come to suspect something was up. She'd also have to put up a façade until she could make the necessary tweaks to Sunset’s personality. She’d have a while to wait before she could even begin to do whatever it was she planned. She also remembered that a certain time was coming up that her parallel would undoubtedly have trouble dealing with.
Sunset would have felt bad for her parallel, except that it was she that got her stuck here in the first place. It took every ounce of concentration she could muster to keep herself from shouting “Vengeance is mine!!”
"Alright! Good job, Sunset! Now I think we should try a short walk," the therapist, a stallion named Quick Reflex, said. This jarred her out of her thoughts and filled her with a chilly fear. Sunset looked up at him, but didn’t stand again.
"First I'll demonstrate, then I want you to try," he said.
She was glad that he was wearing a doctor’s coat. It startled her that for the most part, these ponies didn't wear anything. She'd seen a few just wearing what she figured was a shirt, some in dresses, and there was even one who was in a full-blown tux - pants and all - walking around outside the hospital windows. She figured they felt comfortable just being covered by their fur, but still she felt completely exposed, and was sure her face was stuck permanently blushing.
"Pay attention, now. So, first we move the right foreleg, then back left, then front left, then back right. Leg one, leg two, leg three, leg four. One, two, three, four." He kept walking for a bit, then turned to her and stopped. "Alright, your turn. If you need to count as you walk, go ahead." He spoke with enthusiasm, but Sunset heard everything with terror.
"Oh no," she whispered to herself, but stood up, wobbled, and started walking anyway. "One. Two. Three. Four." She counted to herself slowly, moving each corresponding leg, and found herself a full step in front of her previous position. She continued counting to herself, walking slowly forward, her confidence rising. She decided to try without counting, but this mistake found her quickly on the floor once again. She groaned in embarrassment, wishing something would hide her from the watching world.
"That was really good Sunset! You made it a good six feet! That’s quite an accomplishment," Quick said as he trotted up. "Do you feel like standing up and trying again, or would you like to break for lunch? It's almost noon and your m-magi-magic t-teacher is-" He droned off in somewhat panicky laughter. "Your magic teacher is here!" he exclaimed as the Princess approached.
Celestia seemed to glide toward them, nimble on her long legs. "Hello Sunset, how is your therapy going?"
"Hello, Princess. It's going well, I guess," Sunset said with a genuine smile on her face, thinking to herself that the whole thing had actually gone terribly. "I thought I was going to learn magic later though."
"Well, when I select a student I do teach them about magic, but I also teach them a few other things." Celestia smiled. She thought through her plan once more. She was certain that this Sunset Shimmer would turn out differently, and she was also certain that sending Twilight to Ponyville would work out. Of course, Twilight's move to Ponyville was still about a year and a half away, the timing had to coincide with Nightmare Moons return, only then would Twilight make true friends. "What I want to teach you during your therapy is just the basics of magic. Just things like telekinesis. I think that would make things a bit easier on you." She turned to Quick Reflex. “I'll take over from here."
"Of-of course Princess," Quick stuttered and turned to Sunset. "I'll see you after lunch, Miss Shimmer." With that he walked off, nearly bouncing off a wall as he turned the corner.
"Sunset, we'll be heading back to your room. I want you to walk as far as you can. Don't worry, because I'll be right here to help you." Celestia smiled again, though her worry was evident on her face.
"Okay," Sunset agreed nervously, and started to walk in the direction Celestia had pointed. The physical therapy room was only down the hall from Sunset’s room, so they didn’t have far to walk. Earlier that day, Sunset had been brought out of her room in a wheel chair. It surprised her to see ponies using things that were similar to things from her world. Some things, like door knobs, she pondered why ponies even have. They would be quite the opposite of convenient. As Sunset thought about this, she stumbled along the hall, every so often feeling a feathered wing on one of her sides, helping her to stay standing up.
In the short but excruciating time, Sunset needed a total of twelve assists from Princess Celestia. She was utterly embarrassed, but Celestia assured her that she was not only doing well, but the therapy might only go on for another few days rather than the planned week, what with the progress she was making. Sunset was relieved to hear this, but then she saw her next challenge.
Celestia led Sunset to the table. Their lunch consisted of soup, sandwiches, and juice. Sunset identified the soup easily: tomato. It was an okay soup, not great though. She lapped it up a little worriedly, knowing that where she came from, tomatoes were poisonous to horses. She shrugged her concern off, though, figuring that Celestia wouldn’t serve anything lethally inedible. Then she looked at the sandwich and noticed something was definitely off.
“Am I supposed to eat this?" she asked the princess.
"Yes, is there something wrong with it?" Celestia's eyes widened. "Are you a vegetarian? Oh my. Here, I-I'll get you a different sandwich." Had she already ruined her relationship with this new Sunset? She cursed herself; over a thousand years an expert in diplomacy, and a simple assumption may have already blown everything. First her sister, then one of her best students, and now this poor girl. Celestia made few mistakes, but when she did, they always had heavy consequences. A sweat broke out over her cheeks.
Sunset noticed Celestia's panic and quickly interjected, "No no no, I'm just confused!" Sunset hoped to console the Princess. "I don't want to sound rude or anything, but there are so many things here that just seem inconvenient for people with hooves." Sunset flinched, hoping that she hadn't gone too far in saying that.
However, Celestia simply sat there, a hoof raised to her chin. After a moment, she said, “I never really gave it any thought." She shrugged before continuing, "I can explain a few things, but you do have a point. We have quite a few things that do seem rather unsuitable for non-unicorns." Celestia removed one of her golden hoof greaves and held her hoof up for Sunset Shimmer to see. "Watch." Sunset gasped when Celestia's hoof flexed inward and then outward. Celestia put her hoof back into the greave. "Other than that most other ponies use their mouth for grasping objects, though pegasi will use their wings. For now, though, I'll begin teaching you the most basic form of magic: telekinesis.
Sunset sat back in her chair, preparing herself for her first lesson. Celestia resumed, “Every unicorn has the power to use telekinesis. Obviously, it makes it much easier for us to use and manipulate objects. To start our practice session, first I want you to simply imagine yourself picking up and putting down your spoon in your original form." Celestia bit her tongue. "I'm sorry to bring it up, but having you practice like that will actually make it much faster and easier for you than for the typical unicorn. Unlike them, you've had experience first hoof, or should I say hand. I can teach you the traditional way if you want me to!" She blushed more, and couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with Sunset.
"No, please don't worry. I'm not offended and I think I understand what you mean. I think I know why you’re reacting like that too." Sunset looked down at her hind hooves, "This is just as hard for you as it is for me, isn't it?"
"No Sunset, my situation is not as bad as yours. I'm not going to pretend that it is. You're in a new world, with a body that is and at the same time isn't your own, having to learn to do things all over again, and all with the help of complete strangers. However," Celestia closed her eyes, her barriers lowering, "my situation isn't easy. You see, Sunset Shimmer, though I may look young and vibrant, I'm really over a thousand years old, and though I've seen friends, family, and the rest of my subjects come and go in their mortal life, I've only truly lost very few of them. Your other I lost to her pride and lust for power. She's gone now, hiding in your world and planning who knows what. Long before this, though, was my sister.
"You see, I lost her to her jealousy of myself. Something I could have prevented if I had only realized it sooner, just like with Sunset Shimmer. It seems I didn't learn much from my past, as the cycle has repeated itself, only with more dire consequences. For you being here, I'm partially to blame; I should have paid more attention." A few tears fell from Celestia's eyes. "Let's focus on your magic lesson, it will keep us distracted from our current situation."
"All right," Sunset agreed. She didn't want to start crying again, she'd done quite enough last night. She focused her mind, imagining her hand picking up and putting down the spoon, over and over again.
"You have the motion in your mind?" Celestia asked, and Sunset nodded. "Now the next thing I'll have you practice is channeling magical energy. To channel the energy, focus your mind on your horn. Over time, this will become easier, and you'll be able to use telekinesis on a whim."
Sunset stared up at her horn, her eyes crossing. She concentrated, her teeth clenched, her eyes focused, and suddenly this odd aura enveloped her horn. She lost her focus and it sputtered out, little sparks flying out and dying mid-air. She looked at Celestia with wide eyes and her mouth ajar.
"You did it, and much faster than most do their first time!" Celestia said, a grin forming. "Okay, now what you need to do is start by imagining the action you're going to take, in this case raising the spoon, and then channel your energy while also focusing on the action. It will cost more energy at first, but with time you'll be able to pick up and use multiple objects at once."
Sunset cleared her mind, imagining raising the spoon then, while still imagining it, she focused on her horn. For a while nothing happened, then her horn lit up for a moment and the spoon lifted a couple of inches off the table, surrounded by the same aura on her horn. Then it clattered back as the magic faded. Sunset felt drained, as if she'd just run a mile, but she ignored it, proud of her accomplishment.
Sunset continued this until she started panting with exhaustion. The last time she lifted it she managed to get it a foot off the table. Celestia still smiled, and said to the tired pony, "Don't worry, it will take time. For now, feel free to enjoy your lunch. Don't worry about manners, considering your predicament."
As Sunset returned her tongue to the soup, Celestia asked, "Would you like to hear the tale of Equestria's founding?" Sunset nodded, and the princess began.
Sunset groaned and stirred, trying to move her eyes to where the light wouldn't disturb her sleep. Her drowsy mind cursed the window that faced her bed. The sun in this world was strange; its light wasn’t especially intense. In fact, every so often she'd catch herself staring at the glowing sphere. That didn't, however, mean that the light it gave off couldn't rouse her from sleep.
She flipped over, facing the other direction and pulling the pillow over her head. At least she could sleep in. Her thoughts went to her parallel, who was going to have to go through all Sunset’s problems while having to be on a tight schedule, and with no aid. She tried to blow a raspberry at her mental image, then recoiled at the taste of her pillow. With spit on her muzzle, she decided to give up on sleeping.
Getting out of bed, Sunset cast her aura over the blanket and straightened out. Then she trotted over to her mirror and lifted a comb to her mane. It had been two days since her lunch with Celestia and in those two days she'd learned to control her magic quite well, at least that was what Celestia kept telling her. Sunset felt she was adequate; she could do two tasks at once more or less, but she still wielded telekinesis clumsily.
During meals she preferred not to use it simply because half the time she'd miss her open mouth and hit herself in the face, spill something, or accidentally spasm and fling it across the room. She yelped as she felt the teeth of the comb scratch hard against her head, and in her surprise the bed behind her exploded - the mattress flew against the wall, the pillows fell onto the floor. Sunset turned and cried out, silently cursing herself as she kicked the bed frame.
She got to work putting it back together, replacing the mattress, the sheets, and the pillows. One task at a time was much easier, but she pushed herself to organize it all at once. She needed to practice. Her thoughts drifted to what she'd learned during the past two days.
Celestia taught her whenever she could, but she was the sole ruler of an entire country, so to say her time was limited was an understatement. During every lesson she gave, from history to etiquette to magic, Celestia always had another duty to perform, from reading and signing petitions to even discussing with nobles. Those were the worst times for Sunset; she had no idea what was going on half of the time, and one time a high-class unicorn tried talking with her while she was practicing. Fortunately, Celestia rescued her from having to respond. "Curse politics,” Sunset muttered to herself.
Thinking more about that moment, Sunset’s magic quivered. The blanket she was laying onto the bed felt heavier. Did the noble know about her? She decided she would ask Celestia later that day. "How many ponies know about what I really am?" She muttered the question to herself, keeping it fresh in her head. She knew a few did: the doctor, a few nurses, the physical therapist, Celestia of course, her "parents", and a private tutor.
Finishing her bed she made her way to the hospital's cafeteria. The food pony watched nervously from behind the counter as Sunset lifted a tray and carefully picked up some food, setting it on the still floating tray. Focusing on not spilling, she trotted over to a table. Taking her first bite, she chuckled. "No matter where you are it seems, there is always one constant: hospital food sucks." She laughed to herself as she continued eating, glad that by the end of tomorrow she'd be released and able to enjoy food with a bit more flavor.
When she finished, she headed back to her room. Her teacher would arrive in about an hour, so she crawled back onto her bed, facing away from the window. Her physical therapy was over; she'd "mastered" her control over her new body, though she still felt clumsy. Now all that was left to do was to get educated and up to speed with this new world. For now she was learning the basics. The more advanced studies would come when she officially started her role as Celestia's student. An honor yes, but one she still wished were simply some dream. She felt even worse because the only reason she'd received such an honor was because the other Sunset had earned it before her.
Sunset’s eyes stretched open suddenly. A soft knock at the door introduced her instructor, an older mare named Encouraged Minds. The older mare was a strict teacher, highly intolerant of failure, but the only tutor available in Canterlot at such short notice. Her grey mane was tightly wound in a bun, and her half-moon spectacles gave her an extremely prim and proper look, as if she checked herself with a ruler to make sure not a single tuft of her tan fur was out of place. She had glare that could likely silence a classroom containing even the most riotous of students. Sunset shuddered to herself. That first time was all it took, it scared her to no end. She even had a nightmare about it.
Oddly enough, outside of the classroom Em - as Sunset called her - took on a different personality, especially when Celestia was around. She was much kinder, cool and reserved. Sunset enjoyed her company out of class, and the last couple of days the two had lunch together in the cafeteria. There, Em taught her things about her own life. For example, Em had a twin who was the mayor of a little town called Ponyville. Sunset loved learning from her, but when they were in the classroom and her teacher-mode resumed, she couldn’t help but feel anxious, and glad when the lesson was over. After Em left, Sunset would be left to rest and recuperate from the day, and to go over her studies again. Then she'd go to sleep and repeat the cycle.
Tonight however was different. Sunset was in the middle of one of her nightly recapitulations when her door opened and a doctor walked a pegasus foal into the room. She helped the colt onto the bed next to Sunset’s, then stood and talked to him for a while longer. She tried not to eavesdrop, but then the doctor pointed a hoof at her and said, "Maybe you two could be friends."
The doctor gave the colt a kiss on the forehead. "Have a good night, Swift. Hit that button if you need anything."
"Good night, Bright," Swift responded.
Sunset looked at the colt over her notebooks, an eyebrow cocked.
"Oh. That doctor is my sister, Bright Cloud. I get that a lot when I have to share a room." Swift said while rubbing the back of his head and glancing at the floor. "Well, hi there. I’m Swift Flight."
Sunset swallowed hard. This was her first encounter with a pony that hadn’t been introduced by Princess Celestia. Sure, he was really young, and likely wasn't going to care much about social protocol, but navigating a conversation unaided by the Princess was still daunting. Sunset’s tongue stalled as she thought through her history lessons, trying to figure out how to talk to this pegasus. She understood that it wasn't as easy to pick up on now as it was in the times of Clover the Clever, but the prejudices were still there, and she wasn’t sure how she was expected to speak.
Earth ponies, for instance, are still more likely to occupy themselves in grunt work. Farming and hard labor - Sunset remembered learning about rock farms. She still had no idea what to think of that: were they just carving rocks, or did they literally care for and grow rocks? Pegasi make up more of the middle class in social status; they provide weather and can fly, but their talents also suit them for some even harder labor. Finally there are the unicorns, like herself, who make up the upper class. They’re often found in positions of noble stature or high in the command structure of the military. Sunset could only think of one or two earth ponies she’d seen so far - most of the ponies around her were unicorns.
However, with magic comes a stigma, one that not even Celestia herself can avoid being labeled with. Those who can use magic whether effortlessly or otherwise are considered dangerous by some, and are even feared. Sunset had noticed in the cafeteria that ponies tend to sit further from her and watch closely, just in case they need to dodge a suddenly airborne object. But there were ponies, she learned in class, that were afraid of the magic that fully capable ponies like Celestia had. Unicorns aren’t trusted.
With all this on her mind, Sunset untied her tongue and introduced herself to the waiting pegasus. "Nice to meet you, Swift Flight. I'm Sunset Shimmer." She didn’t trip over any words, but her cheeks still flushed. She was terrified of what might happen if this interaction turned sour. How extreme did the prejudice against her new body and power go?
She glanced over at him in time to see him brush his dark blue mane out of his eyes. Her heart fluttered slightly, and suddenly she was staring starry-eyed at the little colt. She considered the implications of cuddling his cute little face; their difference in age, gender, and the fact that they are both technically nude told her to abstain.
The more she watched him, the more Swift Flight seemed familiar. Something in her told her she'd seen him somewhere before, or at least a human like him. Suddenly she remembered the whole parallel universe thing. She was already accustomed to seeing her principal in pony form, and the ponies that worked at the hospital didn’t feel familiar at all. But just the other day she'd recognized some students from her old school, in the forms of a mint green unicorn mare, a dark grey earth pony with black hair, and a white unicorn stallion with blue hair.
"So, why are you here?" Swift Flight asked, turning back to her.
Sunset’s eyes grew wide and her cheeks blushed again as she quickly stopped staring. "I'm...well..."
She started gazing off. Should she tell him the truth? Or should she just make up a story? She didn’t want to lie to a potential friend, but all the ponies she’d met so far had been ordered by Celestia not to tell anyone else.
She kept her eyes on her bed sheet and responded, "I'm here by Princess Celestia's request. She's having me go through a prolonged stay at the hospital, to make sure I'm physically and mentally prepared to be her new student..." She fought back nervous laughter. "How about you?"
"Me? Oh, I'm just having an operation," Swift said, a blush starting on his own turquoise cheeks. He looked around the room, as if making sure that no one else were around. "You know how pegasi wings are ball and socket joints?" Sunset nodded slowly, though she did not actually know this. "Well, the balls in mine are flat, so it’s really painful to move my wings-” he looked down and bit his lip. “-and I can’t fly very well.”
Sunset couldn't help herself anymore. She kicked the blankets off herself and rushed over to Swift, wrapping him in a big hug. He was surprised, she felt his little muscles tighten up. But soon he returned the embrace, and that's when she decided to tell him the truth. He'd told her, even though it was embarrassing to him. Now she'd do the same, though there was a nagging feeling in the back of her head telling her it was a mistake.
He moved over to make room for Sunset on his bed, and she told him. Here she was in this strange place, with a power she couldn’t even use properly. But now she had a friend, and though he was startled at first, it didn’t take long for Swift to empathize with the new unicorn.
They spent the rest of their time playing a game of chess. Swift moved his pieces carelessly, undoubtedly preoccupied with thoughts of his upcoming operation, Sunset figured. So she allowed her own mind to wander during the game, and soon her stomach was turning at the idea of simply another day in this world.
Another early morning, and Sunset just couldn't sleep. She'd woken up at precisely two o’clock and couldn't sleep past that. Her mind drifted anxiously from topic to topic. First she'd think about the sleeping colt behind the separation curtain, and worry about his impending operation. Then her mind would flurry with thoughts about the day ahead of her. Today was the day she’d be released from the hospital. Soon she’d be thrown into pony society, whether or not she was fully prepared for it. Her thoughts slipped again to the mishaps that often befell her in her basic magic classes. All the panic caused a whirlwind in her stomach that simply made sleep impossible.
Eventually Sunset decided that reading might help her go back to sleep, or at least pass the time. So she summoned a book off a nearby shelf, got into a more comfortable position, then squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated until a little spark came from her horn, lighting up her bed. Content with her accomplishments, she delved into the book.
Having lost herself in the adventures of Daring Do, when Sunset looked up again, sunlight was already creeping in through her window. She didn’t feel any sleepier, but a pleasant calm had settled over her. It was always a joy to read something other than her boring textbooks. It seemed as though the ponies who wrote them intentionally chose the blandest style possible. She didn't want to complain to anypony though. They were already going far out of their way trying to get her ready for her new life here.
She rose and began packing her things. She still wasn't sure where she'd be staying; according to Celestia, both of the rooms the other Sunset Shimmer lived in previously were still there and filled with almost everything that the other Sunset owned. Only one thing was missing: a magical journal that allowed for two way communication between Celestia and her old student. Celestia had said it was interesting that of all the things to take with her it was the book.
Maybe she hoped Sunset would use it to apologize for what she’d done, and return to her teacher.
Sunset's mind started pounding out questions again, all of which started to make her more and more apprehensive about the whole situation. What would happen next? Would she be expected to fill the other Sunset’s shoes, maybe even right the wrongs she made here? What all does being Celestia’s student entail...is she just learning innocently, or is there something more to it? Sunset grit her teeth. She wished she could go back home, back to a life she understood.
She slammed her hoof onto her bed. She didn’t just want to go back home. She wanted this to have never happened in the first place. That Sunset had no right taking advantage of her kindness like that! Her face became red with anger, and her horn began to spark. She couldn’t take it anymore, and a frustrated squeal escaped her muzzle, only before she remembered that she shared a room.
"Oops," she whispered, stepping lightly toward the privacy curtain and peering around it to see the still sleeping colt, lying peacefully on his bed. "Thank goodness he's a heavy sleeper," she said in quiet relief. She didn't want to wake him early; he needed his rest for the day ahead.
She returned to her packed cases, telekinetically arranging them on the little trolley provided for her. Now all she had to do was wait. Whoever was going to pick her up was going to meet her here at 7:30, which was still almost fifty minutes away, so all that was left was to wait. She hoped to herself as she got ready to start another Daring Do book that Swift would wake up, so she could at least say goodbye.
The waiting commenced and Sunset began reading some more, remembering to periodically checked the time. She jumped when the privacy screen swished to the side, revealing a groggy-eyed Swift Flight. "Good morning Sunset!" he said, despite having just woken up, he was still quite chipper as he rubbed his eyes. Then he spotted her luggage. His voice dropped as he said, "Oh, yeah. You’re leaving today, aren’t you?" He looked down at his hooves.
"Don't worry, we still have some time before somepony shows up to collect me," Sunset said, trying to cheer up the colt. "So while we wait, how about we play a little game. How about I Spy?"
"Okay, can I go first?" Sunset nodded. "I spy something..."
Time passed as the two played the game, taking extra care to come up with things that while challenging, would still be easy enough to guess, to allow both time to play. Soon enough, though, Celestia herself arrived. Swift gazed at the Princess with a dropped jaw as she helped Sunset collect the rest of her things. Sunset was also surprised by Celestia’s arrival, because it meant she would be staying at the castle for a while. Maybe her new parents still needed time to adjust.
"Well Sunset, I'm certainly glad to see you made a friend," Celestia said, with a soft smile. "I'll have to see to it that he'll be able to visit you at the castle."
"Th-thank you, P-Princess," Swift stuttered, surprised that a simple pegasus colt like him was talking to the Princess of Equestria.
Finally, Sunset was ready, and with a nod to Celestia, the two exited the hospital room. Swift waved to her as she left, and Sunset did everything in her power to calm her heart enough to smile back.
Following Celestia, Sunset Shimmer finally exited the hospital. With the princess’s help, they were able to avoid the wheelchair ordeal; the weather was beautiful, and Sunset was eager to be outside again. Near the hospital entrance, the two encountered a chariot pulled by a few pegasi. Sunset was confused by the old style of transportation, but upon seeing the city around her, she stopped paying any attention to the chariot. All the cities she knew from back home were very modern, but this one was different. It looked as though it was from the Renaissance era. Sunset snapped back to attention when the chariot suddenly took off.
"I've decided to test your abilities - to see how well you've adapted. We’re going to walk to the castle,” Celestia said, noticing Sunset’s greening cheeks. “Don't worry, I'm not going to ask anything too strenuous of you. During our walk, you can tell me more about yourself and your world." She smiled brightly, happy to learn about the unknown.
Celestia had never gone through the mirror, she just knew what she had read from Starswirl the Bearded’s notes - though he hadn't written much about the land on the other side. She only knew that it was much like Equestria at the time, but that there was no magic. Starswirl had banished three trouble-making sirens there because of this curiosity. Celestia always wondered about the other world, what it was like and how the inhabitants appeared. This Sunset Shimmer had given her a short summary and a very brief description, which had only left her starved for more.
They began their walk toward the castle. It started in silence, Celestia trying to decide which question to ask first. She finally selected one, and looked down at Sunset.
"Could you describe what you looked like as a..." She gave Sunset a probing look. "Hu...man? Did I get it right?"
"Yes, that’s right." Sunset said with a sigh. She looked down, her ears flattening. “That’s what I was.”
"I'm sorry,” Celestia quickly said, her own ears flattening. “Maybe we should give you more time."
"It's alright, I just..." She took a deep breath and looked up at Celestia, feigning a smile. It was a fruitless display, though. Celestia watched with furrowed brow as the new pony tried to answer her question. "Anyway, as a human, I was pretty tall I think. I feel really short walking like this. Humans stand and walk on only our hind legs. We call our forelegs ‘arms’, and at the end of them we have little fingers for holding things.”
“Fingers?” The princess asked, with a raised eyebrow.
“They’re kind of like a minotaur's paw, only without the fur and a thinner hide.”
She raised her eyebrows higher.
“Anyway. My hair looked similar to this, for the most part, but I didn't have a tail. I didn’t have fur either; instead we wear clothes. I wore knee high boots, a skirt, a purple shirt, and a leather jacket. And my skin was the same color as my fur."
Celestia looked off, trying to picture such a creature - though she didn't have much success. She rearranged the image in her head multiple times, but it just never ended up looking quite right.
"Perhaps when you've mastered telekinesis you could draw me a picture." She looked back to Sunset. "So what is your world like?" she asked. Sunset struggled with the question, stuttering and squinting her eyes in her search for a good starting place. "I should be more specific, I saw you looking with interest at my chariot and at carriages as they go by. Why is that?"
"Oh, well, in my world we don't use those as transportation anymore, though we certainly never had flying ones. Now we use vehicles we call automobiles. I wish I could explain more but I don't know enough about cars to even begin explaining. All I know is that they are self-propelled through some chain reactions in what we call an engine." As Celestia watched with great confusion, Sunset became very disappointed with herself.
She wished she knew more about her world than she did. She realized now that she didn’t pay attention to many important aspects. As a teenager, she was preoccupied with having fun, but now that she had lost her home world, she couldn’t help but feel that she had taken advantage of all its perplexing mechanics.
"I'm sorry that I can't tell you more,” she said, her ears flattened again. “I suppose I preferred having fun over understanding the important things in life." She looked back down, some tears forming in her eyes. She could have done so much with her former life. She began to think that maybe she deserved to have lost it.
Celestia sighed quietly. "No. Once again, I'm sorry. I keep reminding you of the life you could have lived."
"It's okay. I just need to remember that what's been done has been done, and that I should focus on living this new life." Sunset put on what she hoped was a brave face, though she knew that her mentor could see through the façade. "I'll answer to the best of my ability any other questions you have."
So they continued on their way, Celestia avoiding touching on any more sensitive subjects. Eventually they reached the castle, and at the sight of it Sunset froze, her eyes wide. Everything from the drawbridge up to the towering turrets amazed her. Nothing in her extensive studies had prepared her for seeing a real castle.
“Ah, yes,” Celestia said, giggling at Sunset’s awestruck face. “I suppose living in the castle is one of the perks of being my student.”
Sunset couldn't speak; her only reply was a sudden snort followed by many happy squeals as she clapped her hooves together. She had always dreamed about living in a huge castle when she was younger. Gazing at her new home, she began to feel like a real princess. She found herself thinking that maybe being trapped in this world wasn’t all that bad.
"Shall we go in?" Celestia asked, still amused by Sunset’s giddiness. "I want you to see your room - your counterpart’s old room. You'll be staying there. It hasn’t been touched since that fateful night. Perhaps we can attempt to solve some of the mystery behind her infiltration of your world and your ‘exile’ here," she added, her voice brimming with hope.
Sunset's grin faded. "Alright,” she said. "I think I know the perfect place to start, and it will give me a chance at vengeance.” Sunset’s brow lowered over her eyes, and she bared her teeth. “It's time to read her diary."
Celestia held back a laugh, but couldn’t help smiling at her new student. "Ah, vengeance. Thy name be reading a diary.” The princess - being such - hardly had her time for fun and mischief, and she found it difficult to contain her excitement. She kneeled down, bringing her face to Sunset’s. “To be truthful, that sounds like a very interesting idea."
Eager to begin, and to introduce Sunset to her new home, Celestia wrapped a foreleg around the young unicorn and lifted her into the air. As Sunset’s stomach whirled, the two flew inside the castle.
Celestia landed on the balcony and carefully set down Sunset Shimmer. Sunset staggered and wobbled - the unexpected flight had devastated her still fragile ability to balance. It had also made her dizzy, and worse queasy. She was suddenly wondering what she had for breakfast, hoping she hadn't eaten anything that would make a huge mess if it came back up. She swallowed rapidly, holding a hoof to her lips.
"Stay *urp* stay down." She felt a much stronger heave, and swallowed even more. "Breakfast *urp* you're not *urp* not listening."
Celestia looked at Sunset with concern, realizing that she had been a little too overzealous. "I apologize. I don't get much opportunity to do things like this," she said with a slightly embarrassed smile. She rubbed the back of her head with a hoof, a faint blush showing up on her cheeks. Her horn then lit up, her gold aura surrounding Sunset Shimmer for a moment. "That should help you feel better."
Sunset stood up straight, her nausea gone. A relieved smile crossed her face. "Thank you, I do feel a bit better," Sunset said as they started toward the balcony door. "So, what do you mean by that? Not having the opportunity?"
Celestia stopped just before the door. "You said you wanted a bit of revenge earlier, which, because the pony you want revenge on is in another world, means that you are going to settle on mischief like looking through her diary." Celestia reared and clapped her front hooves together for a moment, giggling as she did so. The regal princess she normally held herself as almost completely disappeared, replaced by a prankish teen. "Even as a young filly, I never truly got the chance to have these kind of experiences. Sure my little sister and I would play, and we'd cause the guards somewhat of a headache. However I've never experienced things like this." She giggled again. "I can't wait!"
Sunset smiled up at Celestia, glad to see the uptight royal loosen up. "Glad I could help." she said, growing ever more accustomed to the idea of being stuck here. Celestia opened the door and they walked in. As Celestia closed the door, Sunset took in her new room. It was clean and well organized. There was a bed in a corner of the room - thin, short, and all-together small. A small desk and chair took up the opposite corner of the room. On the desk was a small stack of parchment, some quills and bottles of ink, and a layer of dust that revealed where a book once sat.
They continued looking around, searching every nook and cranny of the bedroom, but they couldn't find anything other than notes on the portal and on the human world. "It seems she may either have made another trip to your world, or she focused all her attention on anything that mentioned it."
They hoped to find more in the living chamber of the suite. However, the decor was sparse and Sunset found it hard to imagine finding anything in here. There was a cozy looking couch, a coffee table, a few potted plants, and a small picture of the Shimmer family.
The suite’s study offered them one last hope, but when they walked into the small room, both ponies gasped. It was a disaster area, like a tornado had come in and ripped everything apart. There were books scattered all over the floor and the furniture, overturned chairs, wrappers from packaged foods, soda bottles, bottle caps, and parchment - the parchment was everywhere. Sunset could have sworn some pieces were still gently drifting to the floor.
"Ouch!" she cried out after her first couple steps into the room. She looked down and saw she had stepped on an overturned bottle cap. "Wow, this makes my old room look clean."
She kept looking around, paying much closer attention to the ground this time, hoping to find some sort of diary, or something that might explain why her parallel did what she did.
Sunset stopped. She saw something move in the corner of the room. With tentative steps, she moved forward. In the dark corner, an old, half-eaten sandwich was swarming with roaches.
"Oh my, NO!" She galloped out of the room, past the confused princess and toward the bathroom, the only room they hadn’t looked in yet. Celestia remained in the study, taking in every detail. Then, closing her eyes, her horn glowed again, covering the mess with its golden aura.
Sunset released her breakfast in the surprisingly clean bathroom and returned to the study to find Celestia standing in the middle of a practically spotless room. The books were all stacked neatly in the center of the room, the parchment as well, and the trash was gone. Now that it was cleaned, they could properly examine the room. There was a long desk with a chair, a table with all sorts of chemistry supplies, a couple of odd machines, and yet more sets of quills and ink. The walls were adorned with several portraits of Sunset Shimmer, which made her feel slightly awkward. Some of the portraits were smeared with tears.
"I've looked at the covers of the books and a couple of their pages, and I believe she took her diary with her." Celestia said solemnly. Sunset's head dipped, her chance at some vengeance was gone. "At least, she took the enchanted diary I gave her. Odd, that book was meant for communication between us, perhaps she is planning on talking to me. One can only hope.”
Celestia lifted a book in her aura and floated it over to Sunset, who took it in her own aura. “I did find what seems to be a personal diary, though.”
As gently as possible, Sunset opened the cover. This book may hold the reasoning behind her being here, or at least give her a lot of dirt on the other.
Sunset started shifting through the pages, scanning for any possible clue, but she didn't find much. Only the last entry seemed to hold anything of relevance.
“I've finally found it! The date of the portal’s opening. It's tonight, which means I don't have much time...
Now, I've got to hurry through, Celestia's been getting worried. Ever since the day she showed me the mirror, and she saw my reaction to it, she's been keeping a closer eye on me. I have take this chance, quickly...
Once I find out more of what's on the other side then my true efforts can enter the planning stages.
I'll show her. I'll show her what I can do. I'll show her that I'll be a much better Alicorn princess and ruler...
No need for kindness and sincerity, an iron hoof does a much better job at ruling a country...
After that, there was a slight line, as if she started another letter, but then was suddenly distracted.
"She's planning to do something with my world." Sunset felt tears start to flow. Her parallel was planning something, something horrible, and she couldn't do anything to stop it. Even if she did go back, there would be irreparable damage done to both worlds. Sunset sunk to the floor as Celestia took the journal and read through the last entry, her eyes going over it again and again, widening with disbelief each time. She truly had created another monster.
Celestia and Sunset sat there, both contemplating the other Sunset Shimmer. Celestia had anguish written all over her face, horrified by the fact that she had indeed created another monster.
I should have guarded the mirror more closely, or waited until she was truly ready. She looked down at the other world's Sunset Shimmer. Her knees had given out after she read the last page of the journal; she hyperventilated as she imagined what her counterpart could be planning for her home.
Celestia too wondered at her plans, and she flinched when she remembered the Sirens that Starswirl had sent there years ago. What could Sunset achieve with their help? She tried to calm herself by recalling how more or less innocent two of the three Sirens were. But she couldn’t deny that the leader had power. She was a true monster. Celestia shook her head, attempting to focus on the moment at hand rather than moments from millennia ago. Meanwhile, Sunset Shimmer sniffled on the ground, grasping for ways to ease her new pain.
The Princess watched her with great guilt. “Please do not fret. She is incapable of performing any magic in your world." Celestia fought back a grimace as she bent down and gently nuzzled Sunset.
"How do you know?" Sunset asked, almost accusingly. "What if she's already taken over, or she's hurt all my friends and family, or she's done some other horrible things? You read the final entry. She's planning something awful!"
Celestia began to speak but held her tongue. What did she know about the human world? She realized she knew what Starswirl had either written or told her about it, and other than that she had no real idea. Starswirl had told her that magic doesn't work there, because of a transformation that occurs while one travels through the portal, but Celestia didn’t even know what this transformation was - having never been there herself.
An idea popped into her head. "Tell me. In your world, do humans have wings or horns, or even the use of magic?"
"No?" Sunset mumbled.
"Then the other you will not either, you said she looked exactly like you did right?" Sunset nodded in response. "So, as you said, humans don't have magic, and neither did you correct?" Sunset nodded once again. "So it stands to reason that seeing as she looks like you, sounds like you, and in short is you for the most part, that she no longer has magic."
Sunset thought this over for a moment. She wasn’t sure if she believed her, but she was certainly willing to accept some consolation.
"I guess that makes sense..." she sniffed. "But still. That...girl has taken my place, and she's probably planning horrible things in it even as we speak!"
Meanwhile at Canterlot High.
A previously snoring Sunset Shimmer shrieked as she was brought back to the waking world by the sound of a ruler smacking her desk.
"Good morning, Ms. Shimmer. See me after class." Her sharply dressed History teacher retreated to his desk, every step seeming to be calculated.
“That is the scariest human I've ever seen,” Sunset whispered to herself as she pulled her legs onto her seat and hid behind her hair.
Back in the Canterlot Castle suite.
"Sunset, I really don't think that she could do anything that evil,” Celestia sighed. Sunset’s imagination was really getting the best of her. "Not even the worst being in all of Equestria would dissect your parents."
“But what if she does?” Sunset sat shaking, biting her hoof as more and more images flowed through her mind. "What if she still has her magic and she turns them into potted plants?! Oh no! What about Flash?! He doesn't know either! What if she's got him committing crimes for her?!" Sunset gasps suddenly. "Or what if she's shrunk him?! Or maybe she's dumped him?! Or worse she's shrunk and dumped him! He might never speak to me again!!!" Sunset began hyperventilating again.
Celestia decided at this point that Sunset was beyond consoling. In fact, she was beginning to remind her of another of her students, one who often overreacted just at the thought of doing less than perfectly on a test. Maybe I should introduce them, she thought as she walked to the door.
"The servants should have been here by now,” she said over Sunset’s anxious breathing. “You don't have that much luggage." Just as she finished speaking, there was a knock at the door.
Sunset gasped in surprise, quickly rubbing her red eyes and straightening her mane. The distraction allowed her time to process Celestia’s words a little more, and she realized that she might have been slightly overreacting. I wonder if she's even figured out how bras work yet. Sunset smiled to herself. Probably not.
Celestia opened the door and several unicorns brought in Sunset's luggage. It really wasn’t that much, and it surprised her that more than one servant was needed for the job. She stood and peeked into one of the two bags they brought. It held a chess set, a deck of cards, and some writing utensils. After a grey unicorn dropped the other bag onto the ground, Sunset used her magic to unzip that one too. It was filled with books, some of which tried to tumble out. Sunset caught them with her aura, and smiled up at Celestia, who nodded back.
"Well done,” she said. “Now, I have some royal duties to attend to. This will give you time to settle in. If you need any assistance, that rope there signals the servants. Remember, never pull more than once unless it's a dire emergency. The servants are very punctual and do their jobs well. A member of the kitchen staff will be by at 5:30 to take your dinner order." Celestia's horn lit up and from somewhere in the room a piece of paper fluttered forward and hovered to the coffee table. "This is the daily schedule for the castle. I'll send you a note tomorrow morning, telling you when and where we will be meeting for your first lesson. Welcome to the castle and once again to Equestria.” Sunset’s smile had disappeared, and she began to feel a familiar pain in her chest. Celestia frowned, and continued. “I apologize for your unwitting exile here, and hope you'll grow to cope with it. Good luck, Sunset Shimmer."
With this, Celestia left the room, as the servants finished returning Sunset’s items to their original places and followed her down the hallway. Sunset looked around at her new home once again. "Welcome to your new life, Sunset Shimmer.” The pain in her chest became a soft flame. “This is where it all begins."
Sunset awoke before the sun the next morning - she was far too anxious for the day ahead of her. She would finally be starting her schooling with the Princess, learning all sorts of magical spells. Getting out of bed, she decided to get ready.
She wandered through her suite, suddenly missing her old things. Her bass guitar, her leather jacket, cell phone, shoes, parents... everything. It had only been a week since her arrival here, and she still felt the pangs of homesickness. She never had even imagined that someone could steal her very life from her and force her to live a completely new one. So completely new it even came with a new body, one that belonged to something she would have considered a pet back home.
"What’s that old saying,” Sunset muttered to herself. “If you sneeze three times in a row it's because someone, somewhere, said they hate you. Well, other me. I hate you!" She knew no one could hear her, but she screamed those words out anyway. Her chest felt lighter; she watched the sun appear above the horizon. "I hope her sneezing woke her from a good dream." She grinned mischievously to herself, rubbing her forehooves together as she continued to wish ill upon her counterpart. Suddenly losing balance, though, she found herself flat on the ground with her muzzle in the carpet. "Curse this pony body..." she moaned into the floor.
Standing up again and looking around, she realized how empty her new home was. She thought about how nice it would be to redecorate her suite, and what a better use of time it would be than moping on the floor. This way she could be distracted from what she lost, and all the things she now had a hard time doing, like getting up off the floor. Her new body was still taking some getting used too, and what made it harder was that her forelimbs were apparently capable of a range of movement far beyond that of any normal pony.
"They really do resemble noodles,” she pondered aloud, looking at her hooves. “Are there even bones in them? Maybe I’ll learn in class."
Eventually time passed and there was a knock at her door. She opened it to find a pegasus in a maid outfit. The maid curtsied and handed her some folded parchment, then continued on with her duties.
"Must be the note," Sunset said as she unfolded it.
Good morning Sunset Shimmer, I hope you were able to sleep well. As for your first lesson, we will be having it in my throne room before I open it for the day court. A servant will be by to bring you breakfast. Be here by eight o'clock.
Included with the note was a map of the castle, and it wasn't too long before Sunset Shimmer found herself wandering the halls, her nose in the map, trying to find Celestia's throne room.
Every couple of steps, though, something would break her concentration, and soon she was compiling a list of everything she found to be a tad weird. For instance, the fact that all the guards she saw stood stiff as a board, moving only for the extremely occasional blink. Or that aside from them and the scattered maid or servant, the halls were devoid of life.
Finally she found the long hall that led to the throne room. Sets of stained glass windows adorned the walls here, and the morning sun was painting the room with its light. Sunset found herself staring into the windows - one specifically interested her. It seemed to depict Celestia with another, darker alicorn. "I'll just add that to the 'things I need to ask Celestia about later' list."
She continued down the hallway and found herself standing in front of the large set of double doors leading into the throne room. Two guards stood posted on either side of her. They seemed to stare right through her, and she felt her knees knocking. How am I supposed to do this? Do I open it? Will one of them? Should I just wait for Celestia to open it?
She turned to one of the guards and opened her mouth, but he spoke over her.
"You the new kid?”
She shrieked and jumped away from the deep, unexpected voice. “Y-yes, I suppose I am,” she replied, trying to gather as much composure as she could.
The guards cast their magic over the door handles and swung the doors open. "Go on in then,” the one said. “Best not to be late on your first day."
Do they know? Sunset worried. She supposed they could be on the list of ponies to inform. How long is that list?
"Thank you," she whimpered as she walked through the doorway. Stepping into the the throne room, she suddenly wondered what Celestia would be like as a teacher. Will she be strict? Playful? Obnoxious? Prankish? It probably won’t be any different from learning basic magic from her at the hospital, she reasoned.
"Good morning Sunset Shimmer,” the Princess greeted, from high up on her throne. “I’m glad to see you managed to find your way here."
She extended her wings and flew from the throne, landing gracefully in front of her new student. "Now, for your first week, I think we will stick to learning basic magic and getting you more accustomed to your new body." As she guided Sunset toward the middle of her throne room, Sunset noticed that Celestia seemed to have a little extra spring in her step.
"You seem pretty happy. Did you get good news?" Sunset asked.
"Oh no, it's just this situation. As sad as the predicament may be, it's also quite exciting for me to be teaching somepony who in truth isn't a pony at all!" Celestia said, hints of excitement behind each word. Yet, the Princess maintained her composure, and Sunset couldn't help but wish that she could hide her emotions as well as her.
"Now then, our first class will begin. First I want to experiment with your knowledge of the basics. I want to see your limits, how much you can lift with telekinesis, your precision with it, and so on," Celestia said as she started teleporting in a variety of different objects, from marked weights to a simple thread and a set of differently sized needles. "Now let's begin with finding your weight limit."
For the next hour or so Sunset was put to the test. She lifted weights as a strength test. She threaded needles to test her precision. She even made several different sandwiches at the same time to test her capacity for multitasking. She found out that, quite strangely enough, for a complete and utter stranger to the use of magic, she was a natural. At least with telekinesis. Sunset actually felt proud of herself; her abilities here were improving and she was actually considerably more potent at it than most natural born unicorns, which was shocking to her.
At then end of the hour, it was time for the court to be opened, and so Sunset was sent back to her suite with a list of different spell books to read for the next day. It seemed they would be moving on to other magic spells, still basic, but not just telekinesis anymore. She could hardly wait, though she still longed for her normal life back home, she was starting to enjoy herself a bit here.
Celestia watched Sunset leave the courtroom. She'd been going through quite the case of déja vu - she remembered when the first Sunset Shimmer had been going through these tests. She also saw, however, that just as they were the same physically, they were also the same emotionally and psychologically. Behind Sunset’s back, Celestia gritted her teeth. She hoped she'd be able to find out what went wrong the first time, so that she could prevent it from reoccurring.
Sunset Shimmer walked down the hallways, using her new map to make her way around the castle. As she explored she made notes, especially about the areas where guards stood, waiting to usher her away. She couldn't help but wonder why she wasn’t allowed in those areas. Did they hide Celestia’s deep, dark secrets? A military secret, kept hidden from the civilian populous? Or could it be just some diplomat, noble, or other VIP that wants some privacy? As much as she wanted to explore to find out, she knew it probably wouldn't look to good on her record. Thinking about the trouble curiosity got her in back at home, she resolved to try harder here.
"But I want to know what's behind all those doors!" she groaned, striding past another guarded area. She shook her head, her mane falling over her eyes. "Sunset, best not to get yourself in trouble. We don’t want ponies thinking we’re just like the other Sunset." She groaned again, and continued on until finally making a stop at the library.
When she walked through the door, a small gasp escaped her. The gasp bounced off hundreds of bookshelves, echoing toward the back of the library. At least, she assumed it was the back. The room she found herself in was so large, it seemed that it never ended. Lines of books stretched deeper and deeper into the castle interior.
Though Sunset stood in awe of the vast collection before her, in the back of her mind she dreaded reading any of these books. What she liked to read about was fantasy and adventure, and though a book on the basics of magic sounds like it should fit that requirement well, she expected it to be long and boring, like the textbooks back at school.
Sunset shook her head again, gaining ground in the expansive library. She stepped in and began her search.
It wasn’t that learning bored her, she just preferred experiencing things firsthand, or firsthoof according to the twist of fate that landed her here. She had been the top student back at school, and wasn’t expecting much difficulty as Celestia’s student. But the idea of reading these dusty books simply took away the fun she would expect magic lessons to have.
There were a lot of things she didn't know, she reasoned, that she could have learned from books. For instance, she could explain the basic science behind a car, and drive with the best of them, but she didn't know everything inside and out. She could play strategy games like chess and win, but explaining strategy was a different story.
Sunset figured that if she hurried up and got the book and started reading, the faster she could get to the practicing bits. So she swallowed her dread and made her way to a pony sitting at a large desk.
"Hello. Are you the librarian?" she asked the mare.
She looked Sunset up and down, then nodded. "You must be the one Princess Celestia told me about, the hu-man mare that…” The librarian tilted her head, and Sunset realized that she was displaying her emotions too prominently. “Is something wrong?"
"No, never mind, it's nothing.” She smiled, hoping the librarian would forget it. She couldn’t help feeling a sort of shame in her stomach, a feeling she was growing accustomed to as she found more and more ponies who knew about her origins. She thought she was supposed to be a secret. Why did everypony seem to know? “I'm just here to pick up a book the Princess assigned me."
The older mare chuckled and Sunset’s brow furrowed. "Ah yes, the Basics of Magic. You're in luck. Twi-" the librarian cut herself off. "Let's just say that it gets checked out every other week. I have it right here for you."
Who is this Twi-pony? Another apprentice? The shame grew warmer, into something new. Why is this pony a secret? How many things is Celestia not going to tell me?
Sunset forced herself to calm down, taking the book and placing it next to her map in a saddlebag the Princess had given her. She thanked the librarian and decided to return to her room to read.
Once safe and alone, she flipped through the book, eager to get through the reading part and onto the practice part. As she read, she found that each spell included a large paragraph describing its effects. She laughed at the spells that were named in a such a way that made this paragraph redundant: “The Light-Candles Spell”, “The Clean-Carpets Spell”, “The Shine-Hooves Spell”. The more she read these spells, though, the less funny they seemed. Magic was beginning to look mundane, and there was a large part of her that felt disappointed. How was it that her horn inspired fear in ponies when every spell she read was nothing more than a household chore?
With a sigh she rolled over, levitating the book above her. From somewhere between its pages, a folded sheet of parchment dropped, landing on Sunset’s face.
She cried out, swatting the paper away, and dropping the heavy book on herself in her loss of concentration. Holding her bruised face, she scowled as she looked for the culprit.
As she unfolded it, she found that it was a note - an additional spell that somepony had written themselves. She read through its description, as its name did not directly imply its effect, and learned that it was a illusion spell, capable of showing an image of almost anything the user imagined. Sunset grinned as she imagined a few possibilities.
"Well, I guess I'll be showing Celestia the real me sooner than I thought."
Sunset Shimmer stamped her hoof, the sound echoing through her bedroom. It had been hours since she discovered the illusion spell, and all she managed to do in that time was produce an impressive light show and give herself a headache. She was pleased at least to learn that the sparks which flew from her horn were not actually flammable, for if they were her bedroom and surely this wing of the castle would be charred.
It seemed magic was going to be much more difficult than she had thought. She was getting the hang of telekinesis - surprisingly, as casting even the simplest spells in her new book caused her great migraines. She massaged her temples, recovering from her last attempt to perform the illusion spell. She decided to try cooling off with an easier spell, and once again her horn lit up. She focused on an old scroll, enveloping it in her magical aura and lifting it from her desk. The scroll shook and buzzed, louder and louder, until the aura flickered out and the scroll fell back to the desk.
"This spell is just supposed to remove the dust from an object!” Sunset cried. “Why is it so difficult!"
She read the instructions for casting the spell again, certain there were no steps she skipped. It was such a simple thing, and she couldn’t do it. Her cheeks blushed and she threw herself on her bed. Sunset wanted to cast the illusion spell; she couldn’t help but feel like she was supposed to find it. Maybe Celestia meant it to be a special assignment - a test. Why else would such an advanced spell be in a book for beginners?
Sunset sighed. At least back home school work made sense. Math, science, whatever. She always excelled. Back at home, magic was just a fantasy - the sleight of hand of a show magician, special effects in movies, a power commonly found in stories. "Fantasy now seems to be my reality,” Sunset groaned. “I’m sure many girls my age dream of things like this. Now I'm living it, and I want out. That's the worst part. I can't get out." She rolled onto her side and clutched a pillow close, trying to suppress the pain in her chest.
The book glowed teal and it closed. She was done with magic for the day, done with the day itself. She couldn’t think of anything else to do, and her appetite seemed to have disappeared. Her blankets untucked themselves and fluttered out from under her, then came to rest upon her. Between the bedding and dark thoughts of failure, Sunset forced herself to fall asleep.
Sunset was in her old bedroom with a notebook in her lap and a pencil in her hand. All over the open page she found drawings of strange creatures. They seemed to be ponies, and though she couldn’t place them, she found them and the scenes they were depicted in to be oddly familiar.
She set the notebook on her bed and left her room to find her parents. She felt they had to be somewhere, but as she searched, the walls of her home began to melt away. Everything transformed until Sunset was standing in a hallway in Canterlot Castle. Once again, she had a feeling that she knew this hallway. Unable to place it, though, she began exploring, her soft feet barely making a sound on the floor.
Eventually she came to a door that was slightly taller than she was. Something inside her told her to go through it, but she fought the urge and turned away, bumping into a pony in a maid outfit. The pony looked up at her, as it only came up to her thigh.
"Aren't you going to go in?" the pony asked with a smile. "There's a surprise in there I think you'll like!"
Sunset stared at the pony for a moment, her mouth open and eyes wide in confusion. Slowly, she turned back to the door. She wrapped her fingers around the cold handle and pulled. The room inside was too dark to see, but Sunset stepped inside anyway. As soon as she did, the door slammed shut behind her.
“What? No!” Sunset cried, turning back. She clawed at the darkness behind her, but couldn’t find the door again. “Let me out!”
“Welcome home, Sunset,” said a dreadfully familiar voice.
Sunset looked back to see the pony from the scenes in the notebook, only very different. She wasn't heartbroken and crying - quite the opposite. This pony glared at her with malicious glee in her smile.
"You know, I just can't wait for all the terrible things I'm going to do to your world," the other Sunset said. "But first, I need to take care of one little problem. You." Her horn lit up, and Sunset watched as her counterpart grew bigger and bigger. But then she realized that the other Sunset wasn’t the one changing - she was. "I've always wanted a fun little toy like you."
"No!" Sunset screamed again as she ran from her giant counterpart, but to no avail.
Celestia was wandering around the castle, her thoughts drifting with her. Her day of politics was over, and she had plenty of time to worry about her new student. “Two students,” she sighed. “One born a pony, and one turned into one. One with an enormous capacity for magic, one with otherworldly knowledge not even Starswirl contained. One completely independent, without a wish for company. And one lonely, but without the confidence to engage in a new social protocol. One a bookworm, the other hands-on, and both equally intelligent.”
The Princess stopped in the hall of stained glass windows. She looked from portrait to portrait. “The question is, who will be ready? No, the real question is, am I a good enough teacher to get them ready? Will this new curriculum have better results, or will I lose another student? Am I prepared for that possibility? Am I prepared for the consequences should I fail again?"
She continued on, leaving the windows behind. Still lost in her musings, Celestia only snapped to reality when she passed the door of her former student, and new student as well. The Princess knew Sunset would be here practicing the spells she had picked out for her. But she feared that if she was struggling to keep her emotions in check, her student might be in this pain, too. So, after a brief moment of hesitation, she knocked on the door.
"Sunset Shimmer, may I come in?" Celestia asked, waiting, listening intently. There was no reply - not a sound. Celestia knocked again, repeating her question. There was no answer, at first, but the answer that came was one that Celestia hadn't expected at all. It was a scream of fear. The door found a new resting place on the other side of the room as Celestia charged toward the source of the scream. She saw Sunset Shimmer curled up, shivering under her blanket, sobbing.
Celestia looked down at her student, and tears filled her eyes as well. Gently, she lay next to her and covered her shaking body with a wing.
Sunset Shimmer galloped as fast as her hooves could take her. Behind her she heard booming footsteps as the giant figure of her other stalked down the hallway.
"Your body feels rather comfortable. How's mine treating you?" her other asked with a smirk.
Sunset shut her eyes and continued to barrel forward, until she ran into a wall. She opened her eyes again, looked around, and let out a gasp.
"Aww," the giant behind her taunted, clicking her tongue. "Looks like you've hit a dead end." Sunset's already rapidly beating heart only started beating faster as she turned around and backed up against the wall. Her evil twin kneeled on the ground in front of her, her massive hand reaching toward Sunset.
Blue eyes glared at her, and the giant teen grinned in triumph. "What to do with you though?" Raised to eye level, Sunset kicked and squirmed, but to no avail. “Oh, I almost forgot. I brought you a present!" The giant brought her other hand into view and, to Sunset’s horror, revealed the struggling form of her best friend.
“Flash!” Sunset cried.
He didn’t seem to hear her, though. Flash Sentry stared up at their captor. "Why are you doing this? I thought we were friends!”
"Oh Flash, I'm not who you think I am,” the other Sunset said, sneering down at him. “That would be her. But I wouldn’t worry about that, if I were you.”
Still trapped in large orange fingers, Sunset watched as Flash was raised above the other Sunset's head. He was dropped and quickly caught again, by the back of his jacket. He kicked and swung his fists at the giant, but she only let out a snicker. "Keep that up, Flash. That's an important part of this experiment."
Then she tilted back her head, opened her mouth wide, and let him go.
Sunset's covers flew off as she sat up in bed. She gasped for breath, her heart still beating rapidly. Her nightmares had been growing ever darker since her first one, almost a month ago. However, this was the first dream featuring someone she knew. This only made it worse for her, as she thought about it as a possible sign that her other had done something to her old friend.
Sunset got up and slowly made her bed. She felt trapped and helpless, stuck here for the rest of her life, never to see anyone she'd ever known - never to see another human at all. Besides in her disturbed dreams, that is. Even worse was that after a whole month of training, her magic abilities hadn't grown beyond telekinesis. The sparks from her horn seemed to be bigger, and sometimes she seemed so close to successfully casting the spell, yet her efforts had yet to come to fruition.
Fortunately, Celestia’s lessons didn’t seem to require success. They continued on, despite Sunset’s shortcomings. The homework she was assigned remained her primary task, sometimes with an additional assignment, such as reading a more advanced history book or finding certain books for the princess. As more and more books were requested, Sunset thought about what Celestia might want them for. She thought the princess might be preparing something, but Sunset had no clue what. She was confused by the titles of these books, but figured Celestia would understand them. Any real pony probably would, she reasoned.
Sunset finished getting herself ready and went off to get some breakfast. She sat at a table by herself again, her cheeks burning as she felt other ponies gazing at her.
The rest of the day was devoted to practicing spells - and failing to cast them. She took breaks for meals and exploring the castle and its grounds; she found wandering around the gardens calming, even getting lost in the hedge maze every now and then. Some days she even went out into Canterlot to explore the city built around the castle. Eventually however, she'd always make her way back to her work.
She was moseying along the castle hallways, returning to her room, when she found herself joined by Celestia. Sunset would feel Celestia’s eyes on her every couple of steps, but the air between them was quiet as the two walked down the hall. Eventually, Celestia broke the silence. "How was Canterlot today?"
"It was okay,” Sunset replied. “I wandered around for a bit and looked at the shops."
"How goes your study of magic?" Celestia asked, her jaw rigid.
"The usual..." Sunset looked down, her ears flattening.
"Sunset…” Celestia bit her lip, but forced herself to continue. “I know you're facing a difficult challenge at the moment, but I need you to know that I'm here for you. Allow me to remind you that your parents wish to help you as well-”
“They aren’t my parents,” Sunset said. Instantly, she shut her mouth, looking up at her mentor with apology.
Celestia let out a sigh. "As I've said before, I too wish this situation hadn't ever occurred. But it did, and there's nothing we can do to change it. So, once again, if there's any way I can help, any at all, please let me know."
Silence once again invaded the air, and the two turned a corner and started down another hallway. A few hoofsteps later, Sunset stopped. “There is one thing,” she said. The princess turned and looked down at her. Sunset swallowed a lump in her throat and continued. “How many ponies know about me?” she asked.
Celestia felt her cheeks grow warmer, and she quickly turned her attention to the floor between them. As she examined the long, ornate carpeting along the center of the hall, Celestia tried to count the ponies. "Many of the castle guard know,” she answered, softly. “ The doctors and nurses directly responsible for your care at the hospital, the few members of the castle staff that you've talked to, your counterpart’s parents-” Sunset blushed too, but Celestia didn’t see, “and my niece, whom I trust. The total is around twenty ponies. Probably more than you hoped for, yet less than you feared."
Sunset closed her eyes and tried to smile. It was less than she feared, and she wanted to be grateful for that.
“Thank you, Princess,” she whispered. Then she lowered her head, her mane falling over her eyes. “Just one more thing, please. Are... are you sure that the other me can’t use her magic?"
Sunset Shimmer had lost track of how long she’d been in Equestria. Her time was occupied with attempting to cast spells, studying, and sleep racked with recurring nightmares. And yet, even after all this time, all she ever saw from her magic was sparks. The nightmares grew worse and worse.
Each night she saw her counterpart torturing someone she used to know. She seemed to increase in size and cruelty time after time, and the dreams were becoming more vivid with each passing night. She was tired, depressed, her appetite was lacking, and her concentration fleeting. So much so that today, Celestia practically ordered her back to bed after seeing the dark rings under her eyes.
She was stumbling down the corridor to her room, her eyelids drooping. The next thing she knew, she was on the floor, her muzzle throbbing. In front of her was a wall. The hallway had turned a corner without her noticing. She groaned and stood up. This was not the first time this had happened.
“Oh, Sunset. Again?” She looked behind her. It was her counterpart. Sunset wasn’t surprised by this - this illusion had followed her from her nightmares into her sleep-deprived life. It walked behind her, flaunting its human body and criticizing Sunset’s every failure.
This left her irritable and irrational. During her lesson earlier this day, she became so frustrated with herself and her mentor that she tried to cast a dish washing spell on the latter. Of course, all she managed to do was produce two or three sparks from her horn. But Celestia understood her intent, and as she tripped up the stairs, she hoped her angry tutor didn’t haunt her nightmares, too.
Sunset walked into another wall. She shook her head, her mane falling in her eyes. When she looked around again, she realized she had no clue where she was.
"So, can't even find your room, huh?” Her counterpart was leaning against a wall, sneering down at her. “How pathetic. I bet you wish you were safe in your old bedroom." She walked around to Sunset’s side and glared into her eyes. “But I’m afraid it’s being used by me and your old boyfriend right now.”
Sunset’s ears pricked, and she rushed past her other, attempting to escape the delusions of her current mental state. Finally she found her room, and she slammed the door behind her. Of course, this didn’t protect her.
“Congratulations. You finally succeeded at something.” The other Sunset Shimmer stood in the middle of her room, clapping her hands.
Sunset’s eyes bursted, and she ground her teeth together as tears stormed down her cheeks.
"Go away!" she cried at the figment of her other before galloping to her room.
"’Go away’, is that all you've got?" Her human self now stood in front of her, leaning down with her hands on her hips. Her face almost inches from her own. "Well, too bad. I really like hanging around. It’s fun torturing you, Sunset!"
She straightened up. "What should I do next?"
"I said leave!" Sunset yelled once again, her horn starting to glow.
"Make me." The figment leered back.
Sunset’s stomach turned, her breathing stopped, all her strength went to her horn, and she fired a blue beam of energy at her figment. She dodged, and the wall behind her was scorched by the beam.
“Get out!” Sunset repeated, and her figment scrambled out of the room, leaving Sunset alone at last. She stared at wall as her heart rate returned to normal. Her breathing steadied, and she could see clearly.
“Oh no, the wall!” She ran to the burned wallpaper, washing it over with the light still glowing from her horn. Then she realized what she had done. She glanced upward as her aura faded. Her heart started beating quicker again, and she turned her attention to one of her dusty shelves. She concentrated for a moment, charging her horn once again. In a whirlwind, the dust disappeared, leaving a perfectly clean shelf.
"I...I did magic. I just did magic!" she cried, squealing and wrapping her hooves around herself. Then exhaustion hit her like a train; but her horn sparked again. "I can't go to sleep yet. There's still something I have to do."
She trotted out to her main room and found her figment hiding in a corner behind the couch.
"There you are!" she growled. The other Sunset shrank to the size of a doll.
"No! No! Please, mercy! I didn't mean too!" the figment pleaded, backing away. But soon she was submerged in Sunset's aura.
Sunset smirked. "Now it's my turn, and I know exactly how to get revenge."
"No, you can't mean you're going to-"
"Oh yes! That is exactly what I mean." She smirked even wider as she climbed onto her bed and laid down.
"No!" The figment screamed as she was pulled in close. The two massive noodles that formed Sunset's forelegs wrapped around the struggling figure and clutched her to her chest. Sunset lay there, cuddling her former tormentor, unperturbed by the kicks and bites she was receiving.
And so, for the first time in she didn’t know long, Sunset was able to sleep peacefully.
Sunset Shimmer awoke from a pleasant dream and stretched her hooves over her head. Her body curved and straightened, and then it pressed against something small - something that shouldn’t have been there. Her other self - her figment of a depressed and tired mind - slept beside her.
She slowly sat up, keeping her eyes on the figment. Its tiny eyelids fluttered open as Sunset watched, and sleepily, it rubbed its eyes and sat up. Then it saw Sunset and scrambled to its knees, crawling to the edge of the bed, clearly wide awake.
“Not so fast,” Sunset said, catching the figment in her aura and lifted her over to her. She turned it over, examining its disheveled hair and wrinkled skirt. “You’re real? But that’s impossible…” Sunset straightened the figment out and looked in her eyes. “What are you?”
"How can you still see me?” it squealed back. Its eyes darted back and forth before a smirk appeared on her lips. “Well, thanks for keeping me warm last night. Now goodbye!”
The figment closed its eyes, its smirk growing. Sunset stared, confused. Soon its eyes opened again, and it quivered under Sunset’s gaze.
“Was something supposed to happen?” she asked.
The figment squeaked. "I'm not invisible? You shouldn’t be able to see me! I don’t want you to see me!"
"Look, you want me to let you go, fine, but first I want to know what you are and why you’ve been tormenting me!"
The little creature looked up at her and snarled. "No!"
Sunset relaxed; she was in control here, and she’d get her answers one way or another. "Well then, I guess I haven’t gotten my full payback yet. Tell me, did you cause my nightmares too?”
The figment repeated itself, but far more quietly. “No?”
"I'm sorry, that didn't sound genuine,” Sunset said, a giggle escaping. “I guess you just don’t remember. Maybe this will remind you!" She opened her mouth wide and slowly levitated the creature toward it.
"NO! PLEASE! I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY!" it cried, struggling futilely against her magic.
"Then tell me!"
"Please...I can’t,” the creature said, looking away from Sunset’s teeth.
She looked down at it for a few quiet seconds. "Then I'm sorry too."
Her mouth opened wide again and she continued moving the creature toward it. Her tongue flicked around, awaiting the meal. In truth, however, Sunset was not looking forward to this, and hoped the creature would buy her bluff before any of its matted hair touched her tongue.
Sunset was relieved when it finally called out, less than an inch from her teeth. "Alright! I'll tell you! Please! No more!" The creature started to cry, and Sunset put it down gently. Then, right in front of her, it changed.
Her body glowed bright, and seemed to break into shards of light which drifted off the creature’s body. Underneath stood an even smaller humanoid figure, with dark red skin and pointed ears. Her pupiless eyes shown a vibrant green, and from her shoulder blades sprouted a pair of elegant dragonfly wings. She wore a simple blue dress that shimmered slightly.
Tears still rolled down her cheeks. "I'm a sprite. My kind is native to Equestria."
"Okay, so why the torment?" Sunset tried to keep up the bad cop routine, but she struggled against the delicate beauty of the creature before her.
The sprite flinched. "My kind feeds on negative emotion. We’re drawn to it; we feed off it, draw strength, and grow. I came here years ago, drawn by the emotions of the princess. Then you came along, with even stronger emotions, and I just couldn't resist.” The sprite licked its lips. “I tried to stop myself from going too far...but the power, the taste...it was all too good to pass up.”
"So how far were you going to go?" Sunset gowled.
The sprite looked away. "Eventually...well, the nightmares were kind of a hint. Then you would have always been with me, with your emotions - so real and powerful.” It glanced at Sunset and was met by glaring eyes. “But you would’ve been safe inside me! I mean, besides the overwhelming psychological damage.” Sunset picked the sprite up by a wing. “No, please! I’m sorry!”
"But I should return the favor," Sunset responded coldly.
"You wouldn't eat another intelligent creature,” the sprite said, trying to laugh.
"I dunno, vengeance sounds pretty tasty right now." Sunset licked her lips to add a bit of menace.
"Y-you're a nice girl," the sprite sobbed.
"Not as nice as you think."
The sprite covered its eyes. "Please don't! Please, I didn't mean too, I-"
Sunset giggled. "Relax, I'm not going to hurt you.” She set the sprite down on her hoof. “So, what's your name?"
The sprite stared at her for a few silent seconds, and Sunset feared that she broke its little mind. But then the creature dropped to its knees and began kissing her hoof. "Oh thank you!” It spoke between kisses. “I'm Sylri. I'm sorry for what I did."
Sunset smiled. “Well, I guess you at least helped me with my magic. We are definitely going to make sure a certain princess knows about you now, my new little friend."
Sylri gulped before being snatched up in Sunset’s magic.
"Now she doesn't seem hardly as bad,” Sunset said. “And according to her, sprites have this magic that allows them to be seen only when they want to, but hers is going wrong somehow.”
"Every pony in the hall saw me!" Sylri squeaked, hiding ineffectively behind her wings.
Celestia looked between the two of them. "Well, I’m glad that you've found a new friend. But I think you should probably explain all this again."
Celestia canceled all her appointments for the day. Though she feared drawing any attention that might reveal the sprite, she decided it was important to learn all she could about it as quickly as possible. Sylri sat shivering on a throw pillow, a vast and plush ocean to her three inch self. Celestia and Sunset sat at her sides, looking down at her.
"All right, let’s go over this once more," Celestia said. At the sound of her voice Sylri let out shriek. Sunset could see the panicked rise and fall of her chest, the fear etched on her face.
Celestia sighed and continued. "So, let's start with your name."
"Sylri. S-Y-L-R-I. In case you need to spell it,” the sprite squeaked, focusing on her tiny fingers.
A yellow glow surrounded a piece of parchment on a table, carrying it across the room. As it flew to Celestia, Sunset caught a glance of it - a picture of Sylri was attached to the top of it. She stood straight against a white background, wings spread out like a butterfly display. Something about it made Sunset uncomfortable.
Celestia wrote presumably Sylri’s name on the parchment. "Sylri, what is it you are doing here in Canterlot?"
Sylri bit her lip, still watching her fingers. "Looking for food and energy.”
"If I remember right, you feed on negative emotions?"
"Well, I feed on solid food and liquids, just like you do,” Sylri said. “But sprites require the energy provided by negative emotions in order to fuel their magic."
The Princess’s quill moved quickly across the parchment. "I see. What drew you to Canterlot?"
“You did, Your Highness,” she whispered. “I arrived shortly after your battle with…” she glanced at Celestia, then quickly looked down again. "Well, you were rather depressed after that.”
Sunset looked at her mentor, too. Her face was stoic, though, offering no clues regarding this battle. Another question for Celestia, Sunset figured.
"Interesting,” the Princess said. “You’ve been here for nearly a millennium, then. Is your kind immortal?”
Sylri nodded. “As long as we are fed properly, we can continue living forever.”
Sunset watched the sprite again. She couldn’t decide how she felt about the creature. She thought about all the ponies that must have suffered because of the sprite’s feeding, and her heart started beating quickly - especially when she considered the pain Sylri caused herself. However, seeing the tiny creature now, cooperating for her life, enduring the immense fear she’s feeling - Sunset couldn’t help but relate to her.
“So, why did you decide to leech onto my student, rather than another pony here?”
"Well, she’s not exactly a pony, now is she?” Sylri let out a nervous laugh. “When I first tasted her negativity, it was such a new taste. Foreign, and so strong; I had to have more. I lost control of myself...as I became more and more powerful from you,” she turned to Sunset, “I just wanted to feed off you more. I’m truly sorry…”
Sunset’s heart jumped, but then doubt filled her mind. Could the sprite be cooperating simply to escape?
“How large is the sprite population in Equestria,” Celestia asked.
Sylri began counting on her fingers. “Including my adoptive parents, I know of six others.”
"You're an orphan?" Sunset asked.
Sylri hesitated before answering. "Technically, I’m not actually a sprite. One day, I was living in an orphanage, and I blacked out…” She stared straight ahead for a silent second. “And then I wound up here as a sprite.”
“You don’t remember anything before that?” Celestia asked, leaning closer.
“There is one thing,” Sylri said. “I woke up in some strange harness. Mechanical arms surrounded me. Needles.” The sprite shivered violently. “I remember someone crying, too. She was saying something over and over. She didn’t want to. Didn’t want to do something. She apologized a lot too. It’s all so hazy now, but I do remember her name. Assilryn.”
Sunset saw Celestia’s ears prick at the name.
“I took my name from hers, since I couldn’t remember my old name.” She looked up at Celestia, whose eyes were watering. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go into this story. Please, I don’t deserve your sympathy. After all, I’m a monster.”
Celestia gasped, and Sylri was suddenly engulfed in her magic. The sprite struggled, fearing the worst, but Celestia only pulled her close to her, gently holding her against herself with a hoof.
“Don’t say that. Not when you’ve had such monstrous things done to you. Yes, the ones who did this, they are the true monster.” Celestia held Sylri a while longer before returning her to the pillow. “Let us leave this horrid topic for another time.”
Sunset decided to offer her own questions. “What did you mean when you said I would be safe inside of you? I wouldn’t be digested like any other food?”
“When a sprite grows powerful enough, they can devour their prey, keeping an energy source close at all times. Our magic keeps the source safe, and a certain magical liquid in the lining of our stomachs even prevents the source from aging. This is how sprites grow even stronger. In fact, considering how powerful your negative emotions were, swallowing you could have made me incredibly strong - maybe the strongest sprite ever. That’s the difference between your depression and everypony else’s.” Sylri looked up into Sunset’s eyes, then squeaked. “But I’m still really, really sorry that I even tried.”
“Do you have any of my little ponies within you, Sylri?” Celestia asked.
“No, Your Highness. I had one long ago, but I let him out after some time. I felt bad for what I did to him. Not nearly as bad as I did to you, though,” she said, looking at Sunset again, though not in her eyes. “If you still wish to return the favor, you may. My magic will keep me safe...as long as you don’t chew.”
Sunset encircled Sylri in her own aura and pulled her close, hugging her gently as Celestia did.
“Don’t be afraid, Sylri. I forgive you. Can you forgive me?”
Sunset felt the sprite nod, and her tiny hands clutched at her fur.
“Well, this is certainly one of the oddest friendships I’ve ever seen,” Celestia said.
A week had gone by since Sunset and Sylri formed the friendship, and the two had gotten to know each other fairly well. Though over a thousand years old, it seemed as though Sylri had never fully matured mentally, and the two got along as though they were the same age.
This didn’t mean that Sylri was too young to teach Sunset, however. Sunset was delighted to learn that sprite magic was very similar to unicorn magic, and that spells from one could be used in the other - like translating words to a different language. Because of Sylri’s excellent grasp of the both magics, Celestia appointed her Sunset’s substitute teacher while the Princess worked on an important task. She taught Sylri how to send and receive letters, in order to delegate assignments and to keep her updated on Sunset’s progress.
Sunset was gazing out her bedroom window when she saw a flash of light. She turned to see the sprite covered in a glittering green dust, and holding a scroll.
“What’s it say?” she asked.
Sylri opened the scroll and scanned it, her mouth slowly dropping open. When she finished, she glanced at Sunset.
“Oh...just another assignment,” she said, smiling weakly.
The train car went dark as the Friendship Express chugged through another tunnel. Sunset sat in a window seat, Sylri on her lap. The train lit up again, and Sunset’s mane tickled the sprite as she turned to watch the scenery go by.
"So, we're going to Ponyville to judge if it’s fit for the Summer Sun Celebration?"
“Mhm!” Sylri hummed. She started braiding Sunset’s mane - the part she could reach.
“It’s a quaint hamlet outside the Everfree Forest. We should get there before dinner.”
“What about the Summer Sun Celebration?”
Sylri stopped braiding. “You know what? I’m not sure what it is. Just another pony festival, I guess.”
“I’m sure I was taught about it when I first arrived here,” Sunset mumbled, her muzzle resting on her hoof. “I had too much on my mind then to really pay attention.”
Sylri smiled and went back to Sunset’s mane. “Well, why don’t we do some research on it when we donate that book to the Ponyville library?”
Sunset down at the sprite. “Only if you don’t eat anypony when we get there,” she said with a laugh.
Sylri crossed her arms and blew Sunset a raspberry. “I won’t make any promises!”
Princess Celestia had advised that Sunset inspect Ponyville in disguise, and so, when the train pulled into the Ponyville station, instead of Sunset Shimmer, Panorama Slide trotted onto the platform. Panorama had turquoise and light blue where Sunset had red and orange, which she thought matched better with her eyes, which hid behind thick black glasses. Her mane was tied up in a loose bun, and instead of a fiery sun, her cutie mark depicted a large camera. Celestia had given her a matching camera, in order to take pictures around the town.
Sylri hid in the loose strands of Panorama’s mane, wishing she hadn’t lost her ability to turn invisible.
The two headed to the library, stopping every now and then to take a picture in the direction the sun would rise.
“I think it’ll work,” Sylri whispered into Panorama’s ear.
“So do I. Look at the thatched roofs and cobblestone streets. Sunlight must just stream through the cracks in the morning.” Panorama sighed. “It must be beautiful.”
Sylri tugged at the pony’s hair. “What are you talking about? I mean that cafe will work. For dinner?” The little sprite’s stomach growled. “I think you’re getting too into this disguise, Sunset.”
Sunset blushed. “Just trying to do my assignment.”
After a hay burger and fries, they were off to look for the library. The sun was setting, and Sunset couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the little town.
“There it is, Sunny,” Sylri said, pushing Sunset’s cheek toward a large tree across the way. A large sign depicting a book stood by a door in the tree’s trunk.
Sunset cantered over to the tree. There was a "Now Hiring" sign hanging off one of the door’s handles. She stopped and gazed at it, wondering deeply about the word “handle”, and whether or not it was used in Equestria. Perhaps the appropriate word would be “hoofle”, but Sunset couldn’t bring herself to accept that.
“What are you waiting for?” Sylri whispered. “Wanna work at the Ponyville library?”
Sunset shook her head, forcing Sylri to grasp at her mane. “I don’t think Celestia would send her student to live in a place like this,” she said, looking around at the country ponies in the street. “What could I learn here?”
The door squeaked open and Sunset peered into the library. A tired looking stallion sat at a table, piles and piles of books surrounding him. He wasn’t reading any of them, though - just staring at the grain of the table.
Sunset quietly walked up to him and cleared her throat. The poor stallion jumped at the sound and looked up at Sunset with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry!” she said. “I just wanted to donate this book.” Her aura circled around her saddlebag, opening it to retrieve Celestia’s book.
The stallion looked at the book, and yawned. “Okay, thanks. You can set it down over there,” he said, waving a hoof in a nondescript direction. His eyes returned to the tabletop.
Sunset frowned and set the book down on a dusty shelf. “Excuse me for saying, but you don’t seem like the librarian type.”
“I’m not,” he said, dropping his muzzle to the table. “Mayor Mare asks ponies to volunteer here, since we don’t have a permanent librarian.”
“Why are you volunteering?” Sunset asked. “It seems like you don’t enjoy it.”
The stallion sighed and closed his eyes. “What can I say? It looks good on a resume.”
Sylri tugged Sunset’s mane. “Oh, that’s right!” she exclaimed. The stallion looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. “Uh, I mean...do you have any books about the Summer Sun Celebration?”
He groaned and covered his eyes with his hooves. “I’m sure we do, but look at this mess. Some unicorn like you might know a spell for finding specific books, but I sure don’t.”
“I actually don’t either,” Sunset said quietly. “That’s alright, I’ll look somewhere else.” She headed toward the door. “Thanks for your help!”
“Yeah, I guess,” the stallion mumbled. Sunset smiled awkwardly and left.
Sunset and Sylri wandered the town, which was beginning to grow rather dark.
“Can we go home soon?” Sylri asked. “You won’t be able to take any good pictures once the light’s gone.”
Sunset nodded, then her eye caught a glance of something curious. A white unicorn with electric blue hair had just exited the bakery, followed by a disgruntled looking mare with a brown coat and dark mane. Sunset couldn’t help but stare as she tried to understand why the two ponies looked familiar. Suddenly she squealed and ducked behind a bench.
The sudden movement left Sylri tangled up in Sunset’s mane. “What are you doing?” she hissed, trying to free herself.
“That’s Vinyl Scratch and Octavia. They went to school with me. In the human world.”
Syrli stopped struggling and looked at the ponies. “They’re from your dimension?”
“Probably not. They must be their pony counterparts.”
“Yeah.” Sunset stood up and pulled Sylri out of her mane. “We can go home now.”
The train ride to Canterlot was quiet. Sylri slept in Sunset’s lap, while Sunset gazed into space. She thought about the other ponies she saw in Ponyville that she now realized must be Canterlot High counterponies too. Lyra Heartstrings and Bon Bon, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie - her old friends. Her heart beat fast when she imagined how her own counterpony might be treating them.
Her eyes filled with tears, which streamed down her cheeks and onto Sylri’s head.
The sprite awoke sleepily. “Hm? Sunset?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Sunset said, wiping her eyes.
Sylri sighed, then wrapped her arms around Sunset’s belly. “Please, Sunny. As delicious as your depression is, it’s not good for you. Tell me how I can help you.”
Sunset laughed, though more tears were on the way. “As long as you don’t eat me, I’ll be fine, Sylri. Don’t worry.”
“But I am worrying,” Sylri said. “And I’m going to keep worrying. I know you miss your friends, and seeing pony versions of them everywhere must be difficult, but you have me!”
The two locked eyes, each suddenly feeling a little awkward.
Sylri fluttered up to Sunset’s muzzle. “I’m your friend, Sunny. You aren’t alone here, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, blushing. “Now come down, before somepony sees you.”
Sylri fell asleep again not too much later, but Sunset was still happy simply holding her friend in her forelegs.
Sunset smiled at the guard in front of her, but hardly heard what he was saying. Around her were other members of the castle staff and the royal guard, gathered in the castle courtyard for the Summer Sun Celebration. Sylri slept behind Sunset’s ear, and Sunset silently wished that she could be in bed too. Despite her research, she couldn’t understand the importance of this celebration, and her previous night of studying had made this night seem like the longest night of the year, rather than the shortest.
Sylri snored softly, and Sunset fought hard to suppress a yawn.
“That’s very interesting,” she told the rambling guard. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check on some preparations.”
Sunset swayed toward a buffet table, set up in front of a strange statue. As she sipped punch, she gazed at the statue, its giant grin illuminated by colorful lanterns. Sunset had never seen such a creature as depicted by this statue, and the more she examined it, the chillier she seemed to feel.
Her pondering was interrupted as three members of the royal guard burst in on the party. Their tails and manes were singed, smoke swirling above them. Sunset rushed toward them, but stopped when she saw the captain of the royal guard approaching.
“What are you three doing here?” the captain asked. “You’re supposed to be in Ponyville guarding the Princess!”
One of the guards spoke up, still trying to catch his breath. “Sir! She’s vanished!”
“It was Nightmare Moon!” another of the guards cried, as the ponies around them gasped and murmured amongst themselves.
Sunset didn’t know what to do. The captain began giving orders to the party members, but he ignored her. She figured he didn’t know what she could do, either.
She set herself down at the base of the statue and watched everypony scramble about.
“Sunset? What’s going on?” Sylri asked, crawling out of her mane.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you,” Sunset said. “I guess Princess Celestia has gone missing.”
Sylri gasped at Sunset’s words, tripping over her shoulder and tumbling into her lap.
“Where is she? What happened? Why is it still dark? The sun should have been up by now!”
“This Nightmare Moon must have kept her from performing her spell,” Sunset said, slumping against the statue.
Sylri’s ears perked up. “Nightmare Moon? The Nightmare Moon?”
“Yeah, that’s what a guard said.”
“Sunset!” Sylri flew herself up and tugged at Sunset’s mane.
“Cut it out!” she ordered. But Sylri persisted.
“Do you need me to teach you everything? Nightmare Moon used to be Celestia’s sister, Luna. Years and years ago, the two had a fight, ending with Luna being banished to the moon!”
“How did I not know about this?” Sunset cried. She stood up quickly, Sylri clinging to her mane. Then she remembered. She had known about this - some of it, at least. Celestia had once told her about her sister, how she lost her to jealousy, a thousand years ago. But why had she returned now?
"You there!" Sunset turned toward the voice as Sylri disappeared behind her ear. The captain was marching toward her.
She stood up straight as he took of his helmet. His blue mane fell upon his shoulders, reminding Sunset of Flash Sentry. She felt a sudden pain in her heart.
The captain spoke again. “We could use your help rounding up the rest of the staff. We need everypony’s help to find the Princess.”
Sunset nodded slowly, still thinking about Flash. As the captain spoke, though, she couldn’t help but feel something else in her heart. The glimmer of urgency in his eyes and the confident flow of his voice made her head spin, and suddenly she couldn’t bring herself to care about her missing mentor.
“Hurry!” he cried, shaking her out of her stupor. “If we take too long, somepony could get hurt!”
He galloped off, and Sylri crawled onto Sunset’s shoulder.
“I can taste what you’re feeling,” she said, poking Sunset’s cheek. “But don’t you think you have more important things to think about?”
“What?” Sunset asked, blushing. “I’m thinking about the Princess, of course!”
“Really? Well, that would make things a little awkward, don’t you think?”
“Oh, be quiet.”
Sunset rushed across the courtyard and down a castle hall. All around her, maids and guards were panicking. “How are you going to gather these ponies when they won’t calm down?” Sylri asked.
“I think I have just the thing,” Sunset said. “Looks like it’s my chance to try out that paralysis spell.” Just then, three cook ponies turned the corner, stampeding toward the two. Sunset stood still and charged her horn. Seconds later, a volley of blue light shot from her horn, stunning each of the ponies.
As they dropped to the ground, a panting guard came around the corner. Sunset continued past him. “You’re welcome,” she called over her shoulder as she began running again.
“Hey Sunny, I think I should go back to the room,” Sylri said. “There’s a lot of fear and worrying going on here, and I don’t know…”
Sunset looked down at the sprite on her shoulder.
“Well, I just don’t want to do something that I might regret, you know?”
She slowed down and Sylri flew into the air. “Alright, but make sure you aren’t seen. I’ll meet you after this is taken care of.”
The two parted, Sunset continuing down the hallway, following the echo of panicked shrieks.
She came to an intersection, where she found more staff, hurtling toward her from the right. She fired a few more stuns in their direction, freezing one of the ponies, but missing another and accidentally hitting a pursuing guard. She laughed nervously and let out an apology before hurrying on.
Sunset ran past empty closets and suites, but slowed down when she heard a strange scream, over the other screams echoing through the castle. She tracked the noise down, entering a scarcely lit bedroom. On a bookshelf in the corner, under the light of a candle, Sylri was clutching a tiny, crying maid pony.
“Sylri, what are you doing?!”
The sprite looked up at her, and Sunset saw with terror that there were legs sticking out of her mouth.
Sunset stomped toward her. “Spit that pony out right now!”
Sylri frowned, then coughed up a guard onto the bookshelf, next to the traumatized maid.
“You know you’re not supposed to eat ponies, Sylri!”
“I’m sorry! Their panic just tasted so nice…” She smiled softly at the ponies, then fluttered up onto Sunset’s outstretched hoof. She held her arms out toward the ponies, and they started to glow. Slowly, the two grew bigger. However, when they reached Sylri’s size, they stopped.
“I’m trying!” the sprite cried. “My magic is malfunctioning again!”
“Whatever, don’t worry about that for now.” Sunset placed her on her back, picking up the tiny ponies with her magic. Together, they rushed to Sunset’s suite.
Sunset emptied a box at her desk and placed the ponies inside. “Okay, just stay here. I’ll come back with the Princess and she’ll sort this out.” She turned to go, but went back. “You’ll have to forgive Sylri, by the way. She’s actually very nice. It’s just sometimes when she gets a whiff of negative emotions, she just-” Sylri tugged Sunset’s tail. “Right. Well, I’ll be right back!”
She turned toward the door again, but stopped when she noticed a light on one of her walls. She looked out the window on the opposite wall and saw the morning sun rise into the sky. The endless night was over.
“Sunset Shimmer.” Sunset looked behind her, where Princess Celestia stood.
“Princess!” she cried. “You’re safe!”
Celestia lowered her head. “Yes. But the time has come for me to tell you some of my secrets, Sunset.”
“Secrets?” Sunset’s ears twitched, and something in her stomach dropped.
“As I’m sure you’ve figured out, you aren’t my only pupil. Your counterpart was one of my students, and I have another, whom I’ve sent to Ponyville. You’ve been…” Celestia looked away, poking the ground with her hoof. “You’ve been aiding this student since your lessons have started. I foresaw the return of my sister, and knew that it was she who had the ability to bring Luna back to good. She has proved successful, having united a group of ponies who represent the Elements of Harmony and thus saved Luna, myself, and Equestria.”
Sunset stared at the ground, but Celestia lifted her chin with a hoof.
“And it was because of you, Sunset, that she was able to do all this.” Celestia walked over to the box containing the ponies, while Sunset returned to looking at the ground. “It seems that you’ve been able to maintain order here, as well. Though, I see your friend has gotten a little carried away.”
Sylri hid herself in Sunset’s mane, peeking out to watch as Celestia approached the box. The ponies inside knelt before the Princess, despite their size and fear.
“Let’s see if we can fix this,” she said, her horn glowing. Pale yellow light engulfed the two, lifting them out of the box. They hung in midair, Celestia focusing all her attention on them. After two minutes of this, though, nothing happened. “Oh dear. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe with me.” Celestia placed the ponies back into the box, taking the whole thing up in her magic.
She cantered back to Sunset, trying to catch her gaze. “I am sorry for the deception. This was the only way to get my sister back, and to keep Equestria safe.”
“I forgive you,” Sunset whispered. Though she wasn’t sure that she meant it.
Celestia left her then, and Sunset crawled into bed, pulling the blanket over her head.
“Sunset? Aren’t you glad everything worked out?” Sylri asked, cuddling against her ear.
“You know how I feel,” Sunset grumbled. “Why do you have to ask?”
Sylri whined softly. “Isn’t there anything I can do to help?”
Sunset’s magic surrounded the sprite, pushing her out from under the blanket. “I just need to be alone for a while.”
“Please, Sunny, let me help you!” Sunset felt Sylri’s tiny fists against her head. She tried to ignore her, but soon she was kicking her muzzle, and Sunset found herself fed up.
“Fine, you can help me!” she cried, throwing the blanket off her. “Finish what you started when you first found me!”
“What?! But I can’t-”
“Can’t what? You seemed pretty willing with those other ponies!”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for that to happen!”
Sunset picked her up in her magic again and flew her over to the desk. “If you aren’t going to do it, then leave me alone. I just found out that I’ve been nothing more than a tool to Celestia, and I’m starting to think that finding myself here wasn’t the accident she’s made it out to be. So please, Sylri! Just let me think…”
Sylri watched Sunset toss and turn in her sleep. A wild hoof crashed near her on the bed, and the sprite jumped back, tumbling backward over a fold in the blanket. She sat up again, rubbing the back of her head. She didn’t know what to do.
She fluttered onto Sunset’s pillow and began gently petting her mane. Her tormented friend smelled so good, the agony in her nightmare growing the longer Sylri let it go on. She wanted to wake Sunset up, but the filly hadn’t been able to sleep at all the last few days.
Sylri’s stomach growled, and she quickly put her hand over it, wishing that would quiet it down. She’d been hungry for so long, refusing to feed herself in order to satisfy Sunset instead.
Drool dripped from the sprite’s mouth. She angrily wiped it away.
“No, Sylri! She’s a friend!” she told herself in a harsh whisper, turning away from Sunset. She sat on the edge of the bed, dangling her feet. “Though, it’s not like she’d be in danger inside me. I bet she’d even enjoy it.”
She peeked over her shoulder at her sleeping friend, then slapped her own forehead. “What am I saying? She’d be in misery. And tiny.”
Her hunger tugged at her stomach particularly strongly as Sunset rolled over - grunting, fighting something in her nightmare. With her head in her hands, Sylri continued debating what to do. ---
Sunset Shimmer wandered through a twisted version of Canterlot castle. Spiders dangled from their webs in the corners of the hallways and the glass in the windows was shattered - the wind howling past the remaining shards. She found herself at the dark, looming doors of the throne room. Slowly they creaked open, and a golden glow encircled Sunset and pulled her inside.
The room was black, occasionally lit up by jagged bolts of lightning from outside the broken windows. Sunset didn’t realize she was shrinking in size until a large table came into view, growing larger every second. The golden magic dropped her onto the table, and she could see there were two maps beneath her hooves. One depicted Equestria, and the other depicted her home world. On the latter was an image of the horse statue in front of Canterlot High, and beside that was her human face, smirking.
The darkness at the other end of the table peeled away as Celestia approached. She towered over Sunset, but didn’t seem to notice her.
“Stage one has gone just as planned,” she said with a cackle. “Now, with my sister back by my side, we can begin annexing the human world!”
Sunset stood trembling below her. Celestia glanced at her, tilting her head. “And you made the perfect tool. However, your usefulness is at an end.” Sunset was lifted again by the golden glow. It carried her to a shadowy corner of the room, illuminating a dusty shelf covered with stone statues of ponies her size. Each seemed to look up at her, horror permanently upon their faces.
Celestia tossed Sunset onto the shelf. “Don’t worry, my dear student. If I have a need for you again, I’ll know where to find you.” The evil princess laughed as Sunset scurried to her hooves. “Ready? Now, be good and pose for the camera.”
Sunset reared up, kicking her forelegs in a futile attempt to save herself. She felt her hindlegs go numb and looked down to see herself turning to stone. Her scream echoed through the throne room, and the last thing she saw was Celestia’s face, her pointed teeth in a malicious grin. ---
It seemed to Sunset like she came back above water when she awoke. She gasped for breath, her heart pounding in her ears. She looked around and found Sylri, asleep on her dresser. Before even catching her breath, Sunset got out of bed and began packing her saddlebags. She needed to leave Canterlot, and she needed to leave now.
With her bags packed, she scribbled a goodbye note for Sylri. The exhausted sprite slept through the noise Sunset was making - fortunately for her, Sunset thought. She didn’t want to drag her along on her whirlwind tour of Equestria, suppressing her magical instincts. Sylri would easily find her way out of the city on her own, if there was danger.
Sunset folded the note and tucked it under Sylri’s wing. She smiled in her sleep and turned to wrap her arms around the note. Sunset watched her little friend for a moment, wondering if all this paranoia had something to do with her.
She decided that was further reason to leave, and so she turned away and exited the room.
Sunset Shimmer hurried off the train, the other ponies disembarking around her kicking her hooves as they pushed her along. Her magic carried her bags above her, away from the frantic commuter ponies in the station. She squeezed herself toward a set of big doors and jumped back as they swung open. More ponies flooded in, eyes set on their routes, uninterested in conversation.
These ponies encouraged Sunset. She had decided upon Manehattan for her new home, hoping its name wasn’t the only thing that made the Equestrian metropolis similar to her own. In a big city Sunset could easily retain a low profile, and if she happened to run into any of the few ponies she’d met in Canterlot she could rely on her disguise. She figured using the one she used in Ponyville was risky, since Celestia and Sylri would no doubt recognize it. Liking Panorama Slide’s blue color scheme, though, she decided to go along with something similar. Her coat was now a dark blue, and her mane teal with cyan highlights. Summer Night was the name she adopted - a common enough name, sure not to attract much attention.
Her cutie mark remained unchanged, a memento of her former identity. Summer hid it under tight black pants, so she trotted through the train station doors without fear of being recognized.
Out on the street, buildings scraped the sky above her. She couldn’t decide if the monstrous constructions were more impressive than the ones back home. It amazed her that ponies could build anything without fingers, but then again, they do have the advantage of magic. Summer floated her luggage down to the sidewalk and walked over to it. Her own magic had indeed been coming along nicely since she met Sylri, but she knew she had a ways to go before she’d be able to build anything like this city.
She wondered if she would ever have the power to manipulate magic in such a way. From studying cutie marks, she figured she’d have a construction related mark if she was meant to build cities. That was when, for the first time, she wondered why she had the cutie mark she had. What did her sun mean? Celestia had a sun on her flank too, she realized.
Suddenly, Summer was knocked to the ground by a passing pony. The pony disappeared without so much as an apology. She stood up again and decided to get a move on. A bustling city sidewalk is no place to wonder about one’s identity.
First on her to-do list was to find a place to stay. She had a meager amount of money leftover from the stipend she received as Celestia’s student, but after paying for the train ride she worried that she might not have enough to afford a decent apartment. As she trotted past a newspaper pagoda, she dropped a bit on the counter and took a paper.
At a nearby coffeeshop, she sipped a cappuccino and perused the apartment listings. To her delight, pony apartments seemed cheaper than their human counterparts. One place advertised one bedroom and one bath, with a small kitchen and living area, and it was so cheap she could almost buy the whole thing if she wanted. That was an unnecessary commitment, though, she decided, finishing her coffee and heading back out onto the streets.
After asking a couple ponies for directions, Summer Night finally found herself at the apartment building. Next door was the complex office, and inside she confronted a red stallion with a grey mane, sleeping at a desk. Two fillies sat in the corner of the quiet room, giggling at her from behind a comic book. She felt her cheeks heat up. A bell sat on the desk, in front of the sleeping stallion, and Summer politely pressed it down with her magic. The ring echoed through the office, yet the stallion didn’t awaken. The fillies in the corner giggled harder, struggling to suppress themselves, yet clearly not willing to help Summer.
She rolled her eyes, and cleared her throat. “Excuse me, sir? I’m here for an apartment.”
The stallion snored a bit. An earth mare appeared in a doorway behind him, rubbing her hooves clean on her apron. Summer sniffed a bit and realized that the room smelled delightful, like home cooking. She wished she had had something to eat back at the coffeeshop. The mare shot the giggling fillies a frown and the two went quiet. She clomped toward the stallion.
“Dust Devil!” she shouted, bringing her front hooves down heavily onto the desk.
The fillies in the corner burst into riotous laughter as the stallion sat up straight, wiping the drool from his muzzle. “Honestly, Dust,” the mare said, gently grooming his frazzled wings before returning to the kitchen. She stopped at the doorway and looked at the fillies. “Dinner’s almost ready, you two.”
They grinned at each other and scampered after the mare, abandoning their comic book. Summer was thus left with the stallion, Dust Devil.
“Ah, sorry about that,” he stuttered. “How can I help you?”
“I saw your listing in the paper,” she said.
“And you’re here for an apartment, yes?” he replied, his ears perking up. Summer smiled and nodded. Dust Devil rose from his seat and came around the desk.
“Excellent! Wonderful!” he said, shaking Summer’s hoof quickly. He headed toward the door. “We have several available, would you like to see them now?”
Before she could respond, the stallion whinnied and flew back over his desk to the doorway.
“Going to show our guest the building, dear. Be back for dinner soon!” Summer glanced around the office awkwardly as she waited, then stepped to the side as Dust Devil rushed back to the door. “Follow me please, miss!”
After a quick tour, Summer decided upon a one bedroom apartment like the one she found in the newspaper. The building itself was small - only twelve apartments fit inside it, and only eight of those were currently occupied. The hallways were very quiet. Her bedroom had one window, and through it she had a lovely view of the city skyline. The wallpaper was peeling slightly, true, but the carpeting was very well vacuumed. She believed she could be happy here.
Since she still had a respectable amount of bits left after her downpayment and first three months rent, Summer spent the evening shopping for furniture for her new apartment. She also stopped by a grocery market a couple blocks down the street, and she even found herself inside a music shop where she bought herself a beautiful electric guitar.
Back at her new home, she munched on a sandwich while plucking the guitar’s strings. Of course, she had to use her magic to play the instrument, but she found that it wasn’t too different from using hands. Still, remembering her old guitar and the fun she had with her garage band left her wondering what things were like in her home world. Had her double stayed with the band? No, they probably kicked her out when she suddenly lost her ability to use her fingers.
Surely playing music wasn’t what her evil counterpart had in mind, anyway. Summer Night felt the familiar gnawing inside of her. Had she enslaved mankind yet? she wondered. Is she preparing to march an army of her friends back through the portal to conquer her new home as well? ___
Sunset Shimmer stormed down the hallway, late again to class. This didn’t bother her, she only grit her teeth because she didn’t want to go to the stupid class at all! She cursed Celestia for punishing her this way. Nopony deserves having to go to Trigonometry. When she first arrived here, she expected the people of the world to kneel before her and her immense magic. But the cruel Equestrian princess must have known that she’d lose her magic upon entering the world. Because of this she’d spent her time thus far stuck doing homework and associating with these lowly humans. "She must have tricked me into going through that stupid portal!"
As she continued on her way to class, her attention was caught by a stylishly decorated poster hung on the wall. Since she was already late, she decided there wasn’t much harm in stopping to read the poster.
“Want to run for Princess of the Fall Formal?” the poster asked.
“Princess of the Fall Formal?” she asked. “Princess?”
She rubbed her chin. A dark smile stretched across her face. ___
The other Sunset Shimmer, Summer Night now, unpacked her few bags. Textbooks floated onto her new bookcase, and from between the pages of one of them a notebook slipped out. She picked it up and flipped through its pages, quickly recognizing it as a small journal she’d been keeping at the castle. It’s first entries were written before her classes started with Celestia; she remembered being inspired by finding her counterpart’s diary.
Pages filled with fear for her old world and fear of her new one, her frustration as she became accustomed to her new body and her magic, her increasing depression which suddenly lightened when the creature causing it became a friend. Remembering all that Sylri had done for her made her regret abandoning the sprite. Yet, she wasn’t about to return to being Celestia’s puppet.
The last entry was written on the train to Ponyville, so she had yet to document her betrayal. Summer flipped to the next blank page and picked up a quill.
As she caught up, she reminisced about the pony she met in the hospital months ago - Swift Flight. She felt a tug of guilt, knowing she only remembered his name because she had just read it in the diary. She wondered how the poor pegasus was doing, and even played with the idea of finding him. Surely he wouldn’t tell the Princess about it, if she asked him not to. She smiled, imagining how nice it would be to have a friend again.
Finished writing, she dropped the journal and picked up her guitar once more. She missed feeling the weight of the instrument in her arms as she played, scratching the strings against the blisters on her fingertips. She missed having fingertips. But she played on anyway, and it really did sound just as good - if not better.
Sunset Shimmer, or as her current alias, Summer Night sits in her apartment staring quite angrily at her guest. "How did she find me?!?" She mutters to herself, at the same time she's quite confused. Sure it has been months, but she's kept herself on the down low. Just taking pictures for the current paper, her name didn't even appear in it.
"So, Summer Night, or should I say, Sunset Shimmer. How has the last year treated you?" Asks the one pony she'd been trying to stay away from, the one pony that had ruined her life so many months ago, the Princess of the Sun herself, Celestia. The white Alicorn of ever flowing hair sits across from her in her small living room, the large pony barely fitting inside. "It wasn't hard to find you, by the way. After all, you forgot a few things in your attempt to hide. That I'm a Princess, and that my Sister rules the night. I could've come the day after you left, but I decided that you needed some space, especially after what happened."
Sunset Shimmer continues to glower at the Princess, not surprisingly upset at the mare who used her. "Thanks for that," She hisses, "but why now?" She asks, actually curious at why the Princess was even bothering. After all, she was no longer useful, all she had to do was read the papers to find out what Celestia's new puppet was up to.
The Princess shifts on the carpet she's been laying on, gazing around the room, looking among the small amount of gathered decorations that Sunset Shimmer had in her abode. Most were mundane, but there is something specific the Princess is looking for. "Well, I came to apologize. I'm sorry that I used you the way I did. I should have told you what my plans were. I should have asked if you wished to be a part of them. It's complicated to explain, but let's just say that I'm used to being, more mysterious, like a guiding hand rather than a booming voice."
Sunset continues to glower. "Yeah, you know that doesn't make me feel any better." She replies sharply.
Celestia sighs. "I understand that. Still, I am going to attempt to make amends. If it makes you feel any better, know that my Sister thanks you for your part in her redemption and being able to return to Equestria. I still do as well, even though I harmed you doing so. Once again, I apologize for not informing you of my intent. From now on, I vow if I wish to involve you in one of my plans, I'll ask you first and fill you in so you don't feel left out in the dark." She swears earnestly.
"You're not leaving until I forgive you, are you?" Sunset asks demurely. Celestia smiles and shakes her head in reply. "Fine, then I forgive you. You can leave now." She says, rolling her eyes.
"Well, no, as that wasn't truly forgiveness." Celestia replies with a small giggle. She stands up and meanders further into the apartment.
"Fine, then I suppose you'll be staying the night!" Sunset yells in anger. "You should've brought Sylri along, then we could've had a big slumber party!"
"Actually, that's something I need to apologize to you about." Celestia starts, before quickly being interrupted by Sunset Shimmer.
"What did you do?!" She asks angrily.
"Nothing, actually. Which was actually a problem to begin with. I should have told you from the beginning just what Sylri truly was, or should I say wasn't." Celestia replies, focused on her former student. "You see, when I asked you to create an illusion, you pushed yourself so hard that you accidentally created her. She was an illusion, one you never realized you cast. A manifestation of your fears that you turned into a, well, an imaginary friend."
Sunset can't believe her ears. "No, you're lying. What happened to her?!" She asks angrily.
"She vanished, you weren't around to sustain her projected form." Celestia replies. "You could form her again if you wish, like I said, you did it before."
"What about those servants?" Sunset asks, no longer angry as she finds herself stunned with shock. She doesn't want to believe it, but looking back...
"They were actually illusory too. You had panicked that night, much like the rest of the castle staff." Celestia replies. "I apologize for lying to you there too, for feeding your delusion."
Sunset loses her balance and falls into a sitting position. "So, everything about me being here has been a lie..." She mutters sadly.
"Not everything." Celestia replies, trotting up to the now depressed mare. "Swift Flight is a very real little colt. Your other's parents are also very real. My sister is also very real, and Twilight Sparkle's new friends are as well. You may only know a few of them, but all of them owe you a lot. None, however, more than me." Celestia says, trying to comfort the young mare.
"Th-thanks, it actually means a lot to hear that." Sunset replies, looking up at the elder mare. "Still, is it true, did I create Sylri? She doesn't really exist?"
"Yes, it's true. She and her kind were a figment of your imagination, as I said before. Dreamed up by your subconscious fears and doubts and given form by the spell I had you attempting to cast. As I said before. " Celestia answers, holding a hoof up as Sunset tries to interject. "No, I didn't think that you'd create Sylri. However, once you formed her I had thought it best to allow you to reason with her, and befriend her to bring you some peace. It had seemed to work, and then well..." Celestia looked away, ashamed.
"I found out that you were a puppet master, and I was a puppet, not even an important one." Sunset spits.
Celestia flinches before letting out a sigh. "I suppose I could be labeled as such. Like I said though, I'm really more of a guiding hand. Someone who points you in the right direction, if you pay attention and possibly have a knack for riddles and puzzles." She explains, trying to get Sunset Shimmer to see her point of view. "Ponies have looked to me for guidance for almost a thousand years now, it's hard not to try and help them while also trying not to get too involved.
"Sunset, I'm sorry that I used you in such a manner. I should have consulted you about the situation and asked for your assistance. Instead I treated you as the student I lost, whom had been willing to receive my guidance, least for a while." She continues, turning to the smaller mare. "Which makes what I am about to do all the more difficult.
"A few days ago, an interesting creature showed up in Sweet Apple Acres. This creature was brought to the Ponyville hospital and recovered there. My sister, the six ponies you helped turn into heroes, and myself went to greet him just yesterday. The creature, it turns out, is a human." Sunset gasps at the news. "He's currently staying with my student in Ponyville, the new Princess, and she is looking for a way to send him home, as are myself and my sister. I have come to ask for your assistance in this endeavor, Sunset." She pleads to the small mare.
Sunset Shimmer almost agrees immediately, but stops herself, with a huff. "You can't even apologize without a motive." She growls.
Celestia sighs. "So I take that as a no." She says, giving Sunset an acknowledging nod. She's about to say something when Sunset interrupts.
"I didn't say no." She says, with a bit of a disgruntled growl. "I'll help, not for your sake, but for his."
A few weeks passed since Sunset was conscripted into researching this particular problem, or so she referred to her current state. She still didn't like how Celestia's apology essentially had strings attached, however, she had to admit she at least appreciated the honesty. She also had to admit, being back in the Canterlot Castle, she had missed palace life. Everything is cleaned and organized, it's much quieter than the city, the gardens are a great place to relax, and her suite makes her apartment look like a broom closet. All in all, it had been a great place to research methods to attempt to send the human home.
Celestia and Luna had filled her in on the details. He'd appeared in an orchard down in Ponyville, the town Celestia had sent her to scout for her student. He'd been taken to the local hospital by the orchard's owner, one of the six Elements of Harmony and a friend to the student, and he was treated for severe bruising. The six, which includes Celestia's student, met and befriended said human who went to live with her student. The human discovered among the old ruins of the original castle Celestia and Luna lived in, a remnant of the latter Alicorn's terrifying alternate form which had developed a mind of its own. Said mind was that of a filly, curious and playful, but fearful of Unicorns who could supposedly easily dispel her form, essentially killing the filly. Luckily Celestia and Luna had found a way to give the filly true life, so now she doesn't need to worry about that.
The two formed a sort of sibling bond over the course of the night and the time they spent together afterwards, made even more so by the Night Princess adopting him into the family that she'd essentially started by accident by creating the filly a thousand years ago. Things, however continued to get strange for the human, as he and the six discovered that somehow, he was capable of shapeshifting or rather that he was the host for a parasitic shapeshifter. This shapeshifter revealed that they'd been fused in some way. Of course, the most startling news of all comes in the form that they didn't appear in Equestria by accident. Somepony or more accurately somecreature had planned this. In any case Celestia plans to invite them to the castle today, in part to separate the two into individuals, and in part to reveal their findings.
The human himself, Celestia described as a depressed young man only about four or five years older than Sunset and the six elements, who would all be in high school back in Sunset's world, where the human would be either working or in college. He hides his depression by behaving in a laid back, sarcastic manner and regulates it via interactive video technology that is leaps and bounds ahead of Equestria's Arcade machines. Or to Sunset Shimmer, just plain video games. Celestia had seen for herself just how detailed some of the games were. Sunset had giggled to herself at the thought of Celestia being sickened by the scenes depicted yet being over a thousand years old and knowing it wasn't real. She also made a mental note to herself to avoid playing the more mature games should the opportunity arise.
Sunset heads to the castle library, hoping to find something, anything that could help. She hadn't been lucky so far, and that was with Celestia and Luna helping during their spare time. The three had poured over all sorts of books, not finding even a slight hint at how to be able to find his world and send him to it, without him ending up stranded or worse. In fact, it seems that dimension hopping is a fairly unresearched field of study, even by Starswirl himself. In fact, it's amazing he even was able to reach Sunset's home, and that was due to the relationship their two dimensions have being parallels. Yet somehow, he'd been able to make a magic mirror that one could use to travel between the two dimensions and even transformed the traveler into the local species parallel to their own. Hence how Sunset Shimmer had become a pony.
Sunset lets out a sigh as she makes her way around the castle hallways to the library. Though she'd like to befriend the human and have someone she could relate too, she still would much rather be able to help him get home. It just doesn't seem likely. She reaches the library and starts pouring through books, hoping for a shred of a lead that could send him home. The more she pours through the books, the more frustrated she gets. "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!!" She yells as she angrily jams another spell book onto the growing pile. "How can there be nothing and yet a direct portal to my world?!" She asks herself in frustration. "It's a good thing Starswirl died a thousand years ago, or he'd get an earful from me!" She curses the old wizard.
For a moment Sunset angrily paces the library section. "Two weeks and four hours, still nothing!" She continues to mutter to herself as she stops pacing and shelves the pile of read books. "Only a few left, hopefully they can be of some sort of use." She sighs as she looks at the small pile with doubt. "Well, I better be there to greet them, Celestia wants me to give them a tour." A thought nags at her mind, one that had been since the beginning of this debacle. Was he truly human, at least to her? As far as she knew there weren't any in Equestria, and she had no real idea whether or not Celestia had been to her world. In fact, considering how this human arrived in Equestria, he could be anything at all, he could even be entirely different from the humans back home, just a species that goes by the name human.
Grabbing a map of the castle, updated to show the suites that the Princesses set up for the human and his two sisters, she heads to the castle foyer to greet the three, though technically it'd be two of them until the Princesses separate the shapeshifter from him. Plotting her path, she rolls up the map and heads off. Making her way through the hall, her thoughts drift. Though she's happy to meet him and finally talk to another human, she's actually more interested in the shapeshifter. A being so alien to them, she technically doesn't have a body of her own. Though it's more accurate to say the human doesn't have a body of his own and that he's sharing the shapeshifter's body.
"This is as far as we take you. From this point forward, Celestia has appointed a special guide for you. She'll be here shortly." Sunset hears a guard say. Well, this is her cue, and the moment of truth.
"Hello! Welcome to Castle Canterlot. I'm your guide-" Sunset starts as she canters through the doorway, her intro interrupted in her shock. The scrolled map falls to the floor as the human and her eyes lock gazes. She looks up at him, her mind frozen, Celestia was telling the truth. There, standing in front of her, is...
"You're human!" She bursts, leaping and wrapping him in a hug. Happy tears start to flow as she tightly embraces and practically bowls over the human. Clothes, hair, fingers, a short nose, shoes, it's all there! "Another human! I'm not alone anymore!" She cries out in joy.
Her mind comes screeching to a halt when she realizes what she just did. "Oh!" She leaps off of him, blushing in and kneading the floor in embarrassment. "Right, you don't know.” A nervous giggle escapes her lips and she looks away. “See, I may look like a pony, but I'm really a human." She explains as calmly as she can. "Of course Celestia wouldn't tell him!" She thinks bitterly to herself.
"Well, that is certainly something I wasn't expecting," The human replies as he stands up. "Wow, he really is tall, or are ponies just short?" She thinks to herself as she reinspects the man in front of her. "I'm Jacob, pleased to meet you."
"Sunset Shimmer." She introduces herself. "Sorry about that, really. I just never expected to see another human again." She adds as she also looks to the filly. "Awe! She's so cute!" The human's expression changes with thought, and she swears she sees a look of recognition. "That's strange. Oh wait, I guess there's something Celestia conveniently left out, again..." She thinks somewhat angrily to herself, before mentally shaking out of it. "Well, we might as well get on with the tour." She says with a somewhat nervous laugh.
"Sorry, but I thought I was here to see the Princesses about something."
"Oh great, more Celestia convenience." Sunset mentally rolls her eyes. "Not even her adoptive nephew. I swear, it's like she gets a kick out of being mysterious." She thinks to herself. "You are, but they are currently busy. They planned this tour so they can finish their meetings, and so you can see the castle." She replies. It is true, and she can't fault them for being busy. "Seriously though. Things would be a lot easier if she just took the time to let people know... She huffs mentally while outwardly continuing her semi-nervous but cheerful demeanor.
"I see.” Jacob replies in a slightly annoyed tone. "Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one." Sunset thinks to herself. "Well, shall we get going?" He asks before looking down to his filly sister.
The young filly had been glaring at her the whole time she realizes. "She's adorable, even when she's angry!"Sunset coos mentally. "Of course, follow me." She turns and motions with a hoof for them to come with her.
The tour goes smoothly enough, and the filly calms down. Sunset leads the two down a hallway and stops at a set of doors in the Royal residence of the castle, their adoptive mother's suite just down the hall along with the Mistress of Manipulation herself. "And finally, here is where you'll be staying for the next few days." She says as she ushers the two inside. She lets the human and filly explore while she decides to rest on one of the couches in the suite. Nothing pleases her more than to hear the filly's excitement as she explores her room.
The filly comes running out excitedly. “This place looks like it’s meant for a lifetime stay instead of just a few days!”
Sunset giggles. “We just want to make sure you’re comfortable here.” She watches as the human sits on the couch across from her, along with the filly. Sunset decides that to help introduce herself, she tells them about how she got to Equestria and a short summary of her time there.
"So, now you're just as stuck here as the pony you is stuck in your world?" Jake asks.
"Yes, I’m afraid it’s too late to switch back. She's already revealed where she came from, and apparently Princess Twilight has banished her to my world. At least, that’s what I heard. So we're stuck in each others lives. That's nothing compared to you, though. I mean, abducted and stuck here as an alien experiment?" Sunset replies, still quite stung about the development. During their time together for research, Sunset had brought up the possibility of her going home too. Well, Celestia had to tell her what happened between the other her and Princess Twilight. In the end the other her is banished to her world, just as she is now stuck in Equestria. Though, Sunset had to be honest, she was already betting that for whatever reason she was stuck here anyway.
Jacob just sighs. "Don't even know who, what, or why. Just stuck here, from a somewhat different Earth than yours. I'm just glad that my shape shifting host didn't kill me. Technically, I'm the parasite."
"A situation we believe we’ve found the remedy to." The group hears the familiar voice of Princess Celestia as she enters the room, along with her sibling.
“A remedy?” Jake asks. “What do you mean?”
Princess Luna smiles. “We’ve been researching a spell that physically duplicates a pony, a very useful spell if somepony suffers from having a split personality. We should be able to use this spell to remove Jake from Silhouette, giving them both a physical form of their own.”
Sunset drifts off in thought, no longer interested in hearing what was going on. Instead, she focuses on the target of the upcoming spell. "I wonder what she's going to look like? Oh, and what about him? Isn't he still going to be a shapeshifter? I have to say, I'm glad to not quite be in his shoes." She thinks to herself as the spell is cast and after a bright flash, two beings appear. There's Jake on one side and the other. Sunset's jaw drops. "What the?!"
The other being, clearly the Shapeshifter or by name Silhouette, is the tallest person in the room. Her form is strange, like one took a large wolf and stood it up on its hind legs, only her whole body is human-like. Her hands have pads and end in claws, and her tail is fluffy like a fox's but overall, she has a human build, and clothes."If I were human, I think I'd be jealous." Sunset thinks to herself. If it wasn't for the fact that she was a wolf-like creature, she'd definitely win beauty contests back through the portal.
However, that wolf-like quality triggers something in her. Almost like a buried instinct, maybe it's from being transformed into a pony, or perhaps it's just the Uncanny Valley effect of seeing this being that belongs more on drawings or cartoons than anything else... Not that Sunsets couldn't say the same about herself. Whatever it is, it makes her wary of Silhouette. The Shapeshifter's form is clearly more predatorial in nature. She shivers a bit as she watches the creature, even though it's fairly clear she is friendly.
"So, um Silhouette. Mind if I ask you a few questions?" Sunset asks, repressing the hint of fear in the back of her mind. She also has to admit, she's very curious about the creature in front of her.
Silhouette turns to her, and now with the creature's gaze upon her, she can't help but feel even more nervous. "Oh, hello. You're Sunset Shimmer. Right?" Their eyes lock and Sunset can't help but shiver a bit. "Her gaze is absolutely predatory!" Silhouette sniffs at her as she leans down, getting closer. "You're afraid?" She asks tilting her head, almost like a curious puppy. "Oh, does this make you more comfortable?" Before Sunset's eyes, the shapeshifter begins to ripple, her skin and clothes shifting and squirming as she starts to compact in on herself. Her hands and feet flatten and round, eyes getting larger, while her muzzle shortens.
"N-no! N-No it doesn't!" Sunset thinks to herself as the creature slowly shifts and changes in front of her. The disturbing sight ends with Silhouette looking like a very non-descript pony. No mane, her tail is basically still her fox tail which is obviously the only intriguing feature, different grays all splotched on her fur. Even her irises are gray. "Um, I guess that's okay." Sunset is still a little shaken, but overall, is more comfortable around the essentially bland pony. "Anyway, like I said. I'd like to ask a few questions."
"Oh, okay." Silhouette replies as the duo head into her portion of the suite, as everyone heads off on their own. "So, what do you want to ask me about?"
"I mean, what's it like, being a shapeshifter? What do you eat? Do you even need to eat?" Sunset begins, rattling off basically every question in her head. Sunset finds a hoof pressed against her mouth, silencing any more questions.
"Could you slow down please, I'm really new at all... This." Silhouette says, motioning around her.
"Oh, sorry." Sunset apologizes, her cheeks glowing red from embarrassment. "Alright, well the first one then. What's it like?"